St Brendan’s Catholic Primary School in Lake Munmorah has a new, furry member of staff joining the team to support students.
Hazel, the Cobber dog is a therapy dog in training, and is joining Vic the black Labrador in providing comfort and support to students at the school.
Learning support worker at St Brendan’s, Jodie Mizzi said that Vic and Hazel have become part of the family, being loved by all the students and staff members.
“We brought in the dogs about three years ago to reduce our student’s anxieties so they can focus on their work better.
“I find that the dogs disarm the students and break that ice and stress to change their mood.
“I think they also allow the students to see their own behaviours when they are having an escalation.
“They can regulate their own behaviour as they are not trying to upset the dog.
“The dogs also provide weight therapy, instead of using weighted blankets the dogs will go and sit in the lap of a student and that reduces their anxiety.
“The dogs also offer the opportunity for the students to unload all of their stresses, some of the students talk to the dogs about what is bothering them, and they feel better,” Mizzi said.
St Brendan’s Principal, Craig McNee said that Hazel, who has been spending time in his office has been very playful but also helpful to the students.
“It’s good to have another support dog in the school, she really helps the students talk about their problems,” McNee said.
Mizzi explained that the dogs can also help students overcome their struggles.
“They are also a good way for us to engage students that struggle socially, or with attendance as the dog gives the student an opportunity to go up to a new group and talk to other students that they might not have done without the dog, and suddenly they have a few new friends without realizing.
“Some students who struggle with attendance we’ve noticed have been coming on their designated dog days they always turn up.
“Some of the students also read to the dogs as they might feel embarrassed to read aloud to the class and the dog is a non-judgmental audience.
“It’s quite a fluid program, we go where we’re needed.
“We might be on the way to a class for a visit and we might see a child that has fallen over and we’ll go to them instead so the dog can calm them down.
“All the students love Vic and Hazel and the staff do too.
“All the teachers have been really on board with having the dogs in the classroom and have been really creative in ways they can immerse them into their lessons, for instance Vic has been used for experiments.
“We’re always looking for new ideas on how to improve learning outcome,” Mizzi said.