Case study: Albert and the pupils of Lancasterian
My name is Andrew Shevlin and this is Albert. I’m a teaching assistant at Lancasterian school and I am also Albert’s carer (or as the children in school would tell you, I’m Albert’s dad).
Since Albert joined our school the effect I have seen him have on children in school and the difference I have witnessed him making is something I find quite incredible.
Albert joined us in May 2014, I received training from Guide Dogs staff on commands for Albert, and day-to-day tasks such as feeding, walking and grooming him which was passed on to staff and pupils. This is vital in ensuring that the buddy dogs programme works, as Albert needs to get the same clear messages from everyone he encounters.
If you were to come to our school to visit, one of the first faces you are likely to see is Albert’s. He will come along and greet anyone with his wagging tail as he loves socialising and getting affection from people. If Albert is around then people are usually smiling and if you were to ask any of our pupils what their favourite thing about Lancasterian is, I would imagine the majority would tell you it was Albert.
Dogs have something that I don’t believe any person can match and I see this most days with Albert, we have a number of pupils within our school who can be very quiet and would be worried about talking to adults however with Albert they are more than happy to have full-blown conversations and tell him all about their day.
Not only is Albert a great friend for all of our pupils but he is also a pretty good teacher as well. Albert acts as a reading buddy in our school, he never interrupts children when they read, he doesn’t tell them they are pronouncing anything wrong or rush them on to the next page to get the book finished. Albert just lies down and listens to them read him a story. Research has shown that reading with a dog can improve a child’s self-esteem and confidence in their own reading dramatically, and there are a number of programmes through the country where dogs come in to libraries or schools to listen to children read. We are lucky at Lancasterian as we have Albert every day!
One pupil we have who is on the autistic spectrum finds it very difficult to link home and school. He would arrive home after school and not have any stories for his parents, his answer to ‘what did you in school today’, would usually be ‘nothing’ or ‘it was ok’, very rarely saying more than that. His mum came and found me a few weeks after we had got Albert to say thank you and said that for the first time he was going home and talking to her about school and what he had done with Albert during the day.
Another one of our younger pupils in our nursery was worried about whole-school assemblies. She didn’t like going in to the main school hall when lots of people were there. However once she was asked if she would be able to look after Albert in assemblies– as he gets a little worried too, she agreed and will now happily go to all assemblies, sitting at the front with Albert by her side. Another example of the calming and reassuring affect Albert has on people.