A dog’s life at WPS
by Claire Lambert
6th November 2023
IT IS WITH great excitement that Warrandyte Primary School (WPS) welcomed its newest staff member — Winston the school therapy dog.
He is here to make a positive difference in our students’ lives and is causing a cuteness overload.
Winston is a playful and endearing puppy who is being trained to become a therapy dog.
This four-legged addition to the school staff aims to enhance the well-being of students, staff, and the broader school community.
Winston is a Labrador/Golden Retriever cross, considered one of the best breeds for working in schools.
At WPS, we know that well-being and learning are equally important; students’ mental health is critical to their well-being, enabling them to learn effectively.
With this in mind, School Principal Nieta Manser decided that the benefits of having a therapy dog at WPS were so great that she had to organise one.
By finding ways to support our students’ well-being, we are committed to always getting the best out of our students, and Winston is just one way we can help the children at WPS achieve success.
Well-trained, confident, happy therapy dogs can be an invaluable resource for supporting students’ social and emotional learning and fostering a sense of community spirit.
As a young puppy, Winston has only just begun his training, but he has got off to an excellent start.
Nieta, as his primary handler, has started taking Winston to puppy training classes, where he receives obedience training.
After this, he will have specific training related to a variety of situations, including supporting students feeling anxious, being taught tricks to do in the classroom to build engagement, and providing support for particular issues that schools regularly face, such as school refusal or de-regulation of students.
Winston will even support our literacy program, as students can take turns reading to him to practice their fluency.
We think Winston will love hearing stories read to him each day.
We have teamed up with Service and Therapy Animals Australia to launch the PAWS in Schools program at Warrandyte Primary School.
The company is connected to Service Dogs Australia and ensures the program adheres to strict standards and that Winston’s needs are also being met.
PAWS is an acronym that is easy to remember and encompasses the key components of a successful School Therapy Dog program:
Assess, adapt, achieve
Winston is adapting well to school life and enjoys spending time with the staff, who have bonded with him quickly.
As expected, the children have been extremely excited to meet Winston, too, patiently waiting for their turn.
Students in Prep first had a glimpse of Winston through Nieta’s office window; not wanting to overwhelm him, teachers took the children to wave and admire from a distance.
It wasn’t long before Winston was brave enough to visit the Prep classroom and even came for a training session while students were engaged in their inquiry maths lesson.
The sight of children giggling as Winston eagerly wags his tail when they visit the school office and the quiet moments when he sits alongside a student who needs a comforting presence have already become regular occurrences at Warrandyte Primary School.
In Winston, the school has found a loyal companion dedicated to fostering well-being, resilience, and happiness in its students.
Ella in Prep agrees. “I love having Winston at school.
“He is my favourite breed of dog.
“I can’t take my eyes off him!”
Jarrah, in Grade 5, is also smitten.
“I love having Winston at school because when I see his little face, I want to hug him.
“He is adorable, and he loves his toy llama.
“I think he will be really good at helping students when they are sad, as well as encouraging us with our learning.”
It is easy to see how Winston will be able to positively impact the lives of the students at WPS, and we are excited to explore how proven animal-assisted learning strategies and techniques can be incorporated into our existing well-being and intervention programs.
Therapy dogs in schools can also help children build social connections, develop a sense of belonging, and create a context for instilling whole-school values such as empathy, kindness, gratitude, and respect, among other benefits.
The program will be funded partially through fundraising by our Friends of Warrandyte Primary School committee and partially through the Mental Health Fund the school will receive as part of a departmental program to support students’ mental health across all ages.
Grade 3 teacher James loves having Winston around.
“It’s like having an extra staff member who is everyone’s best friend.
“We can already see the benefits for our students and the positive impact Winston is having.”
Winston’s journey towards becoming a certified therapy dog continues, and he is already making a difference in the lives of those he touches.
The students and staff of Warrandyte Primary School eagerly await the day when Winston can officially wear his therapy dog vest and embark on his mission to provide comfort, companionship, and joy to all.