One of the newest staff members at Ballarat High School has already assumed the mantle of the most popular.
Three-year-old border collie/kelpie cross Kai is a therapy dog-in-training and is on staff to provide support for students as well as staff through the school’s wellbeing centre.
“There have been a lot of studies, especially overseas, around the benefits of therapy dogs in schools have shown they do decrease anxiety and stress in students and also, in some part, they contribute to improved attendance,” said Kai’s owner, trainer and school wellbeing coordinator Shirlene Laurie.
Kai started her training at school late last year and is continuing working one day on, one day off now that school has resumed.
“Having a dog can change a situation. It’s a good link sometimes with kids who may not necessarily want to come up and talk to someone, but they connect through the dog, and one of the studies showed the relationship between students and adults increases significantly quicker when a therapy dog is in the room.”
For some students Kai’s job is to be available for a cuddle or pat but for others, particularly boys, who need a more physical release they can go for a walk around the oval or even engage in a game of fetch.
“Welfare staff often meet new kids for the first time in what can be difficult circumstances, and having this guy in the room changes that dynamic,” she said.
Ms Laurie said the school’s new year seven students had taken a shine to Kai, who was helping ease the transition from primary school to high school.
“Kai attended the pre-transition and transition days last year, walking through the corridors and going to see kids and parents. We can be in room of people and she’ll notice if someone feel anxious and will gravitate toward them. Usually she goes up and nudges the person for a pat.”
Because her job can be emotional, Ms Laurie must ensure Kai has rest days between work days and that she knows the signs of doggy stress.
“The dogs pick up on people’s emotions and feelings, and it can be quite strenuous for her if it’s an emotional day. Working one day on, one day off gives her the opportunity to have a rest and it’s part of my training as a handler to make sure I can see when she is feeling stressed and needs some time out.”
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