News December 2018 – Pages 14 & 15 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvaƟon is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. – Zechariah 9:9 Puppy power is helping students to connect DOGS have a special way of connecting with people and, in particular, children. It is for this reason that dogs are finding a place in classrooms to provide much needed companionship for children who benefit from emotional and social sup- port at school. Former Bendigo primary school teacher Grant Shannon established Dogs Connect to help students deal with men- tal health issues in classrooms across regional Victoria, as part of an Australia-first learn- ing program. “After working as a pri- mary school teacher for over a decade, the need for Dogs Connect was born to help stu- dents feel more connected and engaged in their school envi- ronment,” Mr Shannon said. The Dogs Connect program is based on academic research around student wellbeing and applied learning, combined with experience of a broad range of teaching and behav- ioural management practices. St Francis of the Fields Primary School in Strathfieldsaye was the first school to benefit from the pro- gram when it was launched in 2015. Principal Tim Moloney said the program has not only benefited students but staff too. “It’s not just about bring- ing a dog into the classroom; it goes to a much deeper level than that. The benefits for the entire school community have been extraordinary,” said Tim. The program involves introducing a dog as a perma- nent member of the schools’ learning community. The Dogs Connect team works very closely with the school’s com- munity to design a program to meet the specific needs of the students and staff. “Ten regional Victorian schools have used the pro- gram to help their students feel more connected to their school environment, to help them to cope with negative emotions, to be calmer and happier and achieve deeper learning,” said Grant. Program data shows a sig- nificant decrease in anxiety and stress, and improvement in school attendance. A sub- stantial increase in students’ understanding of empathy, relationship between heart rate and emotional states, and how to practise regulation have also been noted. Other results indicate an increase in engagement, atten- tiveness towards teachers, and a general calming effect for students and staff. The Dogs Connect pro- gram is currently working in a research partnership with La Trobe University Bendigo to contribute to the growing evi- dence that supports the use of dogs as tools for learning sup- port in school settings. “Schools are complex organisations with growing numbers of learners with spe- cial needs and challenging behaviours. The Dogs Connect Program utilises dogs as a tool for improving and engaging (cognitively, behaviourally and affectively) students in their learning”, says Dr. Bruce Pridham, Lecturer in Learning Theory and Indigenous Education La Trobe University Bendigo. “The program helps build learner self-efficacy with a focus on building emotional intelligence and resilience. Through the Dogs Connect Program we have identi- fied improvements in student behaviour, attitudes towards learning and their connection to school,” he said. “Most dog owners would agree we all know that they love us, but research has been done to identify what is behind their unconditional love and why dogs are the best animal to help improve social and emo- tional wellbeing for children in a learning environment. With an increasing num- ber of students experiencing a mental health issue, schools are searching for new ways to support children’s emo- tional and social wellbeing to improve engagement and learning. Programs like Dogs Connect are providing obvious benefits for students, staff and entire school communities. For more information about the Dogs Connect program, visit www.dogsconnect.net.au By Jenni Kennedy Catholic Education Office Sandhurst Students from Holy Rosary Primary School, Heathcote experience the Dogs Connect program (above) and Grant Shannon with his dog Shannon.