Pupils at three Thanet schools enjoying time with pawfect classmates

Chilton youngsters with furry friend Pippa

Thanet’s three schools in the Viking Academy Trust are including pet dogs as part of their wellbeing programme for children.

Partner schools Upton Juniors in Broadstairs, Chilton Primary and Ramsgate Arts Primary have taken the lead by adding a furry friend to their team – and the results continue to be impressive.

The canine companions for pupils are Pippa, an 11-month-old Border Terrier at Chilton; Pablo, a three-year-old ‘Chorkie’ (Yorkshire Terrier and Chihuahua cross) at Upton and Marlowe, RAPS’ seven-month-old ‘miniature Labradoodle’ (Labrador and Poodle cross).

Each school reports that pupils have become engrossed with the animals and eagerly take turns for supervised grooming, walking, reading stories with them and simply enjoying quiet time in their company.

The schools are also supporting the pet therapy awareness nationwide campaign run by the Underdog International charity by holding special sessions in class and assembly to highlight caring for their pets and understanding the benefits and responsibilities of ownership.

Viking Academy Trust Executive Head Teacher Michaela Lewis said: “We are fortunate to have three adorable additions to Team Viking that are having such a positive impact on our children’s well-being.

“Aside from adding to the ‘cute and cuddly’ quota, our four-legged friends are an integral part of Viking’s ‘positive mental-health’ curriculum.

“Personal well-being is a crucial part of how we care and nurture our children as they develop along their learning pathway with us.

“We are ensuring all children develop the self-confidence to speak out and express their emotions, along with learning how to be a successful member of a group once again after such long lay-offs due to the pandemic safety rules – whether that be in their friendship circle, class or school ‘family’ after having been apart for such an extended period of time.”

Upton teacher Izzy Reed said: “All our schools will use class assembly time to discuss the importance of dog welfare and how dogs have shaped so many lives, particularly during lockdown.

“We will learn about Underdog International whose team provide therapy dogs for schools and rescue stray animals nationally and globally. It is a really good opportunity to reflect on the importance of protecting and caring for our pets.”

Marlowe’s owner is RAPS teacher Alice Rees-Boughton who is the school’s English lead. She said: “It’s such a joy to have Marlowe at school. He has become such a loved member of the RAPS community and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him. He is a cheeky loveable chap and it has been an absolute delight watching him with both staff and pupils.”

Darci and Pablo

Upton Head of School Darci Arthur brought her pet Pablo into school two years ago. She said: “The impact Pablo has made has been huge. He is a focal point for so many of our pupils and our staff can see the ongoing evidence of having a therapy pet – and he is a real star on top of that.”

Emma Dudley-Smith from Chilton shares her home with Pippa and two cats. She added: “The children have made great relationships with her and she has proven to be a firm favourite in all year groups. Pippa has some very important jobs at school and even though her training is just beginning, she already takes working life in her stride.”

The response of Chilton’s children to Pippa is replicated across all the schools. Comments include ‘she makes me feel happy when I have had a bad day’, ‘I love playing with her when I feel lonely’, ‘we can play games and she makes me feel safe’, and ‘she stops me from doing the wrong thing’.

Among the many well-documented benefits for having dogs in school are improved pupil behaviour and concentration; reduced stress and improved  self-esteem; fostering a sense of calmness and responsibility; motivating pupils to think and learn; encouraging expression, participation and confidence; encouraging respect and thereby improving pupils’ relationships with each other, parents and teachers; and developing an understanding of unconditional love.

Underdog International say: “Animal-assisted therapy projects are scientifically proven to have a positive impact on the happiness, emotional well-being and brain functionality of children. Plus, animals can promote kindness and empathy in children, which is fundamental in helping create a more compassionate future for all.”

Full risk assessment, health and safety procedures and parent consultation were carried out by each school prior to inviting at their dogs to be part of their team.

About Underdog International

It is a unique charity that aims to positively impact one million children and dogs by 2025.

It runs a ‘Dogs in Schools’ programme delivering sessions to children teaching life lessons encouraging kindness, compassion and positivity.

It works on global projects to encourage kindness, empathy, resilience and confidence.

It strives to create compassion and joy – one dog, one child at a time.

Find out more online at www.theunderdog.org

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