Headteachers often meet and greet pupils as they enter school in a morning, but at one Sheffield academy it’s the job of their school beagle.
Support dog Jeremy has almost become staff at Chapeltown’s Lound Academy, according to the pupils, parents and staff there. He belongs to deputy head Richard Cottam, and accompanies him in to school on two or three days each week.
Mr Cottam is a believer in the therapeutic power of dogs, and sees pupils benefit from Jeremy’s presence. He sits with nervous readers as they read more confidently to him than they would to their peers or teachers.
His owner said: “Jeremy works with children who may need additional support with their behaviour and emotions. Children will take him for walks around the field and he mixes with them at playtimes. If Jeremy ever disappears then almost certainly he will be in the dining hall hoovering up scraps – the cleaners agree he is an excellent addition to the team!”
Before four-year old Jeremy began his visits some months ago, it was explained to pupils that they must not feed him. Beagles are notorious for their appetites, laughed Mr Cottam, and given free rein the school dog could easily become more akin to a school hippo! But, he added, “dogs provide love, comfort and immeasurable happiness to children and adults alike.”
Jeremy provides inspiration for stories and artwork. And as part of their music curriculum, Year 3 children have written a song full of references to their canine friend. School sports teams have adopted the nickname ‘The Beagles’ whenever they compete.
Pupils with phobias of dogs are learning to overcome their fears thanks to gentle Jeremy who wanders freely, popping in and out of classrooms.
“Our school motto is ‘children at the heart of everything that we do’ and this drives many decisions,” added Mr Cottam. “We strive to look at school from a child’s perspective and so ask: if I was a child, what would make school an enticing prospect? If we can engage children and stimulate their emotions and interests then ultimately we end up with focused and productive learners.”
Lound staff place huge emphasis on ‘brain-friendly learning’, he explained. Children achieve good academic grades built on firm foundations of emotional well-being and social interaction.
“Fitting in with this ethos; a dog provides emotional benefits such as care, companionship, safety, and responsibility. Interaction with animals has been proven to raise levels of serotonin and dopamine, which are the chemical building blocks of positive feeling.” There is evidence to suggest concentration levels increase as you stroke a dog while reading or writing, added Mr Cottam, who continued: “We have had incredibly positive feedback from the community.”
Headteacher Emma Bellamy said: “We have several children with social difficulties and autism and Jeremy offers emotional support and eases anxieties. Another factor was that we have children with fear of dogs. Having a well-trained, calm dog like Jeremy has helped to alleviate their fears.”
Louisa Last, whose daughter Aimee has a phobia of dogs said: “Having Jeremy in school has had a really positive impact on Aimee. It was a concern for me and as she is so truly scared of dogs I thought it could put her off being at school. However with the support of Mr Cottam she has really taken to Jeremy and talks about him a lot at home.
“She looks forward to Jeremy being in school. Hopefully she will get even more comfortable around him and this may help in the future with other dogs.”
Teaching Assistant Helen Garner said: “Jeremy is definitely a special part of “Team Lound”. He has had a hugely positive impact on school life for both staff and pupils. It has been proven in many areas, especially hospitals that when petting dogs are used they induce calmness and well being for the patients andthis has also been the case with many pupils especially our children with SEN.”
Hannah Hattersley, Higher Level Teaching Assistant, said: “It’s lovely having Jeremy in school. He shares the treats on the staff room coffee table and plods around school like it’s his second home! I was so grateful to him on the day we had a car crash outside the school gate as he helped a child to overcome his shock in a way that was so nice to see. He’s just part of the team now even if he is unaware of the cracking job he does!”
Y6 teacher and Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator Sami Wilmshurst said: “A great addition to our school, not only is Jeremy helping children overcome their fear of dogs but it also teaching them how to be respectful not only to other humans but to animals too. A fantastic incentive, especially to those children with additional needs.”
Pupils’ comments included the following; Michael Y4: “It’s awesome. He is so cute and I just love him.”
Jake Y5: “I think it’s good because we get used to having dogs around us and it’s good for people who don’t have dogs at home.”
Esme Y3: “I think it’s good because if we win an award we get to look after him for a morning or an afternoon.”
Freddie Y3: “I love it because not many schools have dogs. We are so lucky!”
Isabelle Y3: “It’s good. It will help people not to be scared of dogs because dogs won’t hurt you unless you treat them badly.”