DOGS have always been man’s best friend, and now students from a local school are having their educational life changed for the better thanks to their new furry classmate.
Five weeks ago, Hope Christian College welcomed Nova, a two-year-old learning support dog, into their ranks to assist with boosting student behaviour and helping children with special needs.
Hope Christian College learning support officer Stephen Bernhardt said the reaction from the students since Nova’s introduction has been “magic”.
“Kids with autism tend not to cope well with change – so, if there is a change to their environment they don’t do their school work,” he said.
“But when we bring Nova in, or even just promise to bring Nova in, they refocus and have something else to look forward to and think about.
“There has been countless situations like that already in just five weeks.”
Learning support dogs are trained to react, and respond, to people’s immediate needs and will sit and ‘listen’ with the students to help calm them down.
Nova was initially trained to be a guide dog by Guide Dogs SA, but a skin condition didn’t allow her to work with the vision impaired fulltime.
Mr Bernhardt said Guide Dogs SA has since provided the school with a number of tools to help Nova transition into learning support.
“If there is a child who is feeling a bit anxious, we can put Nova’s special mat onto the child’s lap and she’s been trained to come up and pop her head on the mat,” he said.
“She just sits and listens to the kids, and she’s been really effective at helping with focus and behavioural issues.”
Mr Berdhardt said, going forward, the school will look to have Nova certified to visit public places to allow her to come with students during field trips away from the school grounds.
“We’d like to get some public access certification, so if we need to take a special needs student out somewhere in public, like the museum for example, we can take Nova with us,” he said.
“While she’s trained by Guide Dogs SA, she hasn’t got the certification to do that just yet.”