MEET Elsie – the newest member of the pastoral team at Newport Primary School.
The five-month-old golden retriever has joined the team at the Middlesbrough primary on St Paul’s Road and is already having a hugely positive influence on pupils having been brought to the school to be trained as a ‘therapy dog’.
Elsie lives with Head Teacher Patricia McGill and cannot begin training until she is at least nine months old but is already going to the school regularly to acclimatise.
Miss McGill said: “We try to find as many different ways as possible to work with our children pastorally. There is lots of research that shows that dogs just sitting with children as they read makes them more comfortable reading aloud.
“We think we are probably one of the first to bring a therapy dog into school locally but we know there are a couple of others schools considering doing it soon.
“Staff, parents and all of the children are smitten with her already. She has also had a positive influence on our attendance which is at an all-time high.”
The value of ‘pet therapy’ has in recent times become widely accepted as a powerful aid to stimulation and communication. Studies have shown that the presence of companion animals can improve the well-being of children and lower the rate of anxiety.
There are also plans to have her trained to be a ‘reading dog’. Research shows that children can be nervous and stressed when reading to others in a group.
Overcoming this fear and fostering a love of reading is seen as the first step on the way to improving literacy and dogs are viewed by many as a perfect way to do this.
Research shows when dogs are in a room of children trying to read they become less stressed, less self-conscious and more confident because dogs are non-judgemental.
If children are partnered with a dog to read to, the dog provides comfort, encourages positive social behaviour, enhances self-esteem, motivates speech and inspires children to have fun and enjoy the experience of reading.
Cllr Tracy Harvey, Newport Ward member and Chair of Governors at Newport Primary, said: “Elsie is already showing herself to be a very welcome addition to school life at Newport. The children and staff are enamoured with her and she gives our brilliant teachers another tool to help encourage the pupils into even better learning.”