Meet Stocklake Park Community School’s super pooch, Patience the dog, who is helping young people with complex learning difficulties improve their education.
Last week Patience graduated, along with her handler Claire, after two years of improving the educational process for children at the school.
The initiative was created by Dogs for Good, and is one of only two schemes currently in operation in the UK.
Just one of two dogs working in schools in the country, Patience is 4 years old labrador/golden retriever cross.
Claire Lush, Patience’s dog handler said: “A student with autism would perhaps not have the awareness and understanding of other people’s emotions. Patience helps students to empathise with other people’s emotions and in turn, understand their own.
“The graduation ceremony is a celebration of Patience’s work with pupils. She is being awarded with a qualification that culminates all the work we have been doing, to make sure we are working as we should and making a difference to young student’s lives.
“I love this job, you need to have a lot of energy but what’s really nice is that the school has so much energy as do all the students. It makes it a huge pleasure to do the job, and Patience is a credit to the Dogs for Good Charity. She’s wonderful!
The presence of Patience in the school has decreased stress amongst students and has resulted in a calmer and quieter environment in classrooms.
Some of the students used to be anxious about coming to school but now they are eager to attend every day to greet Patience.
Her placid character helps to reduce their worries and they often seek her out when they arrive in the morning as she gives them comfort and reassurance.
Amanda Housego, Admin and Fundraising Officer for Stocklake Park School said: “She’s a brilliant motivator for students, because the children want to please her.
“They love her so much! She helps students to concentrate – She provides an added dimension for children to focus and stay motivated because if they behave well, they get to give Patience treats at the end of the day.
“She helps a lot in the community with road safety work, it’s a big challenge for our students to go out in the community, when they have the confidence of having Patience with them it makes the world of difference.
“Things we take for granted like mixing with the community, going to local shops, when they have Patience with them they are confident and happy to do these things that otherwise they would be quite shy about.
“It’s a good way of increasing the awareness of special needs, as people are often curious about Patience so they will come up and initiate a conversation. It’s a fantastic confidence booster for all of the children.
“These little steps are huge milestones for our students. “
During therapy sessions, such as physiotherapy, Patience and her handler help to improve focus of students and therefore the effectiveness of the sessions.
The active role played by Patience in therapy sessions can increase the students’ motivation to engage with their therapy.
The sessions involve games and exercises with Patience, such as throwing balls for her and stretching to reach treats for her, which make them more rewarding and enjoyable for the students who now look forward their therapy.
One of the families at Patience’s graduation said that prior to Patience coming to the school, their child was afraid of dogs. But having seen the positive effect of Patience around campus they now have a dog at home.
Gill Mullis, Head of Stocklake Park School said: “Students who struggle with transition, moving between classes and activities can be really calmed by her presence.
“She adds to students wellbeing and happiness, which is fantastic. She creates interaction where perhaps before students would be too anxious to speak or act.
“We take it for granted we can have a conversation, some of our students are at one or two word levels. Reaching out to stroke patience or speak to the dog, adds to the emotional well being. It helps ease the anxiety of students, taking the focus off them.
"We really believe in the difference that patience is making, and it’s an innovative project – we find something different out every week, it’s been a great experience.
"Patience adds to the calm of a classroom, which as you can no doubt imagine can be quite noisy. I think in this respect she adds to the educational aspects of the classroom, creating a sense of calm.
"The challenge all the time is raising funds for Patience, which is currently a big issue. So any local companies who want to help us out, please feel free to get in touch!"
Any local businesses or community groups that would like to help Stocklake Park School and Patience, please get in touch with Amanda Housego at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To donate, please visit www.justgiving.com/makeaspecialkidsmile