Therapy dog Wilson helps increases self-esteem in students

Nov 9, 2020 | Community News

Gippsland Grammar’s therapy dog ‘Wilson’ has played a pivotal role in helping students deal with stress as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wilson is a Golden Retriever owned by Gippsland Grammar Bairnsdale Campus Foundation teacher Libby Crowe and he first visited the School in 2019 as a three-month-old puppy when Mrs Crowe’s Foundation students were learning a ‘Word of the Week’, which happened to be ‘dog’.

Wilson was such a hit with all the children and staff he began visiting the campus casually, usually on Wednesday which led to the students dubbing that day ‘Wilson Wednesday’. He then went on to star at Toto in last year’s Bairnsdale Campus production of The Wizard of Oz (pictured below) and his association with the students strengthened this year during regional Victoria’s first period of remote learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Mrs Crowe was teaching her Foundation students via Zoom, Wilson often sat alongside Mrs Crowe during ‘story time (pictured top). He was also on hand on May 26 alongside Bairnsdale Head of Campus Mrs Virginia Evans to welcome the campus’s Foundation and Years 1-2 students back to on-site learning after the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in regional Victoria (pictured below).

“You cannot underestimate the emotions of our young people and how they are feeling as they return to school after learning from home for such a length of time,” Mrs Evans said at the time.

“We are doing everything to provide a safe and happy environment for our students and we want our families to feel a great sense of belonging and familiarity as they arrive. Wilson is an integral part of our community and provides not only comfort, but enjoyment … the children absolutely love him.”

Mrs Crowe said the positive impact Wilson had had in her classroom could not be underestimated.

“The comfort and support that Wilson provides to not only our Foundation students but all of the students across the school is beautiful to witness,” Mrs Crowe said. “When they arrive in the morning and see Wilson up near the classroom, they are instantly drawn to walk up to him and give him a hug before they go to their classroom. The other day, one of my students was quite sad while working at her table. Wilson seemed to sense something and went and lay under her table to provide some much needed comfort.”

Early in Wilson’s training it was identified that his temperament was suited to being a therapy dog.

School therapy dogs provide comfort and support to children and teachers; proving to lower anxiety, increasing empathy and the incidence of bullying. While Wilson’s training is currently slightly behind schedule as a result of COVID-19, he continues to have a positive influence at the Bairnsdale Campus.

Gippsland Grammar Principal Mrs Leisa Harper – whose first day as Principal at the School coincided with the first day of remote learning in late March – met Wilson for the first time last week (pictured below) and in the November 6 edition of the School’s newsletter (which you can read here), Mrs Harper said it was amazing to witness Wilson interact with the students and she also noted the positive impact Wilson has had on supporting the students’ self-esteem.

“The research is clear that the effect of therapy dogs in schools shows higher levels of confidence in students as well as increased motivation,” Mrs Harper said. “When I was at Bairnsdale I enjoyed watching children read to Wilson and witness how the opportunity provided a confidence and self-esteem boost as the students completed each reading book. I also had a fabulous time saying hello to Wilson as I gave him a well-deserved pat and cuddle for all that he does for our students.”

While teachers and staff must continue to be mindful of social distancing requirements, there are no such restrictions required for Wilson, who is free to interact with students.

Playful Paws: Training and Wellness trainer Megs Hopman said dogs such as Wilson helped children learn empathy, responsibility, boundaries, confidence and most importantly benefited their mental health and wellbeing.

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