May 24 2013 Latest news:
Friday, July 27, 2012
HER CV would show no teaching experience, poor spoken English and a strong interest in bones.
But a dog has impressed the headteacher of Ormiston Venture Academy to the extent she has been employed to help take reading lessons.
Former guide dog Vanity is now the Gorleston school’s official dog, and school principal Nicole McCartney has assured parents it “is not a gimmick”.
For having the dog present is hoped to settle pupils’ nerves and give them the confidence to read aloud and boost the rate of their learning.
The eight-year-old retriever was school learning mentor Lisa Smith’s guide dog, and people in the borough’s partially-sighted community have hailed the school’s decision as “a really good idea”.
Siobhan Meade, 28, who lives in Gorleston with her guide dog Mac, says the skills of working dogs could easily translate to helping youngsters to learn.
“I think it’s a really good idea,” she said. “Using animals in any form of education and therapy is good as it reduces blood pressure.
“Children who maybe have ADHD or other learning problems would benefit and it’s a great way forward.”
She hoped that the idea would take off and be seen in schools “across the borough”, as it is also a gentle way for dogs to retire.
The average guide dog works for between eight and 10 years, she said.
“A guide dog has gone through extensive training and it’s disciplined.” added Siobhan. “It knows the commands and has been around children so their behaviour is very well established.
“It would be quite nice for the dog to have that sort of relaxation when it retires, doing not a lot but still interacting with people.”
She noted guide dogs cost an average of £50,000 over their lifetime - in training and vets bills - so making the most of their skills is a positive move.
Headteacher Nicole McCartney explained that having an academy dog is a way to engage children and adults alike, providing an impartial listening ear.
“Having Vanity as our academy dog isn’t a gimmick,” she said.
“She will be a key part of relevant activities such as the community reading group.
“Her presence will provide a non-judgmental audience for anyone who wants to read aloud- there’s no pressure on children to get everything right and this helps them to improve their literacy skills.”
Vanity was learning mentor Lisa Smith’s guide dog for six years and helped change her life.
“From the moment I got Vanity she gave me hope and the determination to pick myself up out of the sorrow I had felt at going blind and to support others,” said Ms Smith.
“Vanity has been working hard for six years now and she wants to have a break.
“She will remain with my family because she is part of our family.”
Vanity is to start in her new role in September.