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BROOKLANDS Primary School has given a gold star to their newest and furriest member of staff, Peanut the Labradoodle.

On Friday, January 26 staff and pupils welcomed the 13 week-old therapy puppy into the pack and already Peanut is earning his keep.

During his first week, Peanut met the children in nursery school, went to both P1-3 and P4-7 assemblies and has been a regular feature at morning drop off.

Vice-principal Fiona Smart and her family have fostered Peanut and are helping with his training. While he isn’t ready to go into classrooms and do one to one sessions, Fiona is currently teaching Peanut basic commands and getting him used to the sights, smells and sounds of a busy school atmosphere.

The school has been working with Assistance Dogs NI and had a therapy dog come into the school for an hour on a Friday.

“We were working with Assistance Dogs NI and Gary was bringing his Labrador Lexi in to do one to one and small group interventions for children who have a range of different needs,” explained Mrs Smart.

“We’re trying to find ways to support our children. We were bringing in Assistance Dogs NI and we had so many children waiting on support whereas now this opportunity to have our own dog and do one to one and small group, and class opportunities will be fantastic.

“One of our pupil’s granda is the trainer for Assistance Dogs NI and he was our contact with them. He’s the one who said there were puppies coming and we could have our own dog here. It’s quite a special connection for Caleb as his granda is the trainer and he helped looked after them when they were puppies and too small for school.

“So it’s really special for Caleb to see Peanut everyday as he’s been involved with him from a few weeks old and it was comforting for Peanut as well to have a familiar face.”

Peanut will be reuniting with his brothers and sisters to start training next week for an hour every Friday for 11 months.

“It’s going to be a mix of training, the usual basic commands, then going out to shopping centres, restaurants and shops which teaches the dogs to be very calm,” explained Mrs Smart.

“The training should take about 11 months, for an hour on a Friday afternoon. He’s in school everyday with me, and then he comes home with me in the evenings, weekends and holidays.

“Already he has helped the children, some of whom have different anxieties and worries and he’s helped children make that transition into school. Where they were reluctant to do so, they’ll come in for him.”

The school has seen the benefits of having a therapy dog in school which include encouraging children to come to school, help children regulate big emotions and encourage reluctant readers.

“What we’ve said to the children is, nobody will be put with Peanut if they don’t want too, they don’t have to go near him, as some children might be nervous,” said Mrs Smart.

“The hope is that they will be more comfortable with him, and with him trained to be so calm and predictable, so for children who are nervous around dogs be more confident. 

“There’s going to be so many benefits, including attendance. I’ve already had so many parents say to me children who are reluctant to come in are now bouncing out of bed to go in and see Peanut.

“There are children who have their emotional and behavioural needs, who are maybe having a moment where they are so upset or angry or emotional. An adult can’t help them in that moment but the animal can. We’ve seen in so many other schools that when the dog comes into the picture, the behaviour changes and the child is able to regulate themselves and it brings them right back down.

“Other uses will be children who are reluctant readers will be able to come out and read to Peanut.

“He’s only been in the school a week and the atmosphere is phenomenal, the happiness and warmth, it’s incredible.”

School principal Jeremy Armstrong said having Peanut in the school has been ‘incredible’.

“I just want to thank Fiona and her family for their long term commitment to taking Peanut into their family home and looking after him,” he said.

“We’ve already seen so much positivity and excitement already, I’ve been here for many years and nothing has caused this amount of excitement in the school. It’s just been wonderful.”

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