Children and staff at Isca Academy in Exeter, part of the Ted Wragg Trust family of schools, have been marking Children’s Mental Health Week by shining a spotlight on the work of their therapy dog, Missy. Missy is a 70kg St Bernard and may be Britain’s biggest therapy dog!
Children’s Mental Health Week runs from the 5th to the 11th of February and this year’s theme is “My Voice Matters.” Now in its 10th year, Place2Be, the children’s mental health charity, launched the first ever Children’s Mental Health Week back in 2015 to highlight the importance of young people’s mental health. One in six children are likely to have a mental health problem and the awareness week is designed to empower, equip and give a voice to all young people in the UK.
Missy has been on a mission at Isca Academy over the last 16 months, to transform lives and make the school one of the best schools for any child to attend in Britain. Missy belongs to Isca’s Headteacher Vicki Joyce, they started their journey together at Isca in September 2022.
Since then, Missy has become an incredibly popular ‘staff’ member, boosting the wellbeing of staff and scholars across her school. With rave reviews from children, parents and staff alike, she has even been described as a “Godsend” by one mum whose 11-year-old has been nurtured through anxiety into settling into ‘the big school’.
New Year 7 scholar Ellie, 11, who started in September, said: “It makes me want to come into school even more and then sit with her, stroke her, and give her treats and Missy helps a lot. I think more people should have that too”.
Ellie’s mum Eadaoin said: “Actually, if it wasn’t for Missy, half the time Ellie wouldn’t come in. She struggles quite a bit with it and has done for a while so Missy has been an absolute Godsend.
“As soon as she gets through the door and sees Missy her whole demeanour changes and she says ‘I want to go in and see Missy.’”
Missy aids those struggling with anxiety to come into school, greets the 1000 scholars into their classes, helps boost reading, literacy, and learning, and even eases any worries for those sitting exams.
The popular pooch is just one of many ways the school is striving to put the wellbeing of their young people at the forefront of everything they do, starting with the joyful and musical welcome children get each morning by staff and continuing with appreciations and celebrations throughout their lessons. Isca’s core values ofInspiration, Success, Community & Ambition are at the heart of all they do.
Missy is an integral part of living out these values, but she is supported by a wide team, including elected Scholar Health Ambassadors that work with staff to improve wellbeing even further, so that every child feels safe, happy, and supported on their Isca journey. Most recently this has involved wellbeing drop-in sessions in response to student feedback.
A Lincoln University research paper into therapy dogs concluded that dog-assisted interventions can reduce stress levels in school children, with effects lasting over the school term. It is hoped that their findings will provide a basis for widespread changes in educational practice, including public policy change so that more children benefit from therapy dogs such as Missy.
Mrs Vicki Joyce, Headteacher at Isca Academy said: “Missy has been an absolute star. First thing in the morning she will greet and meet children and parents. She then has break and lunch duty enjoying time with many of our children. We have reading and literacy sessions, so she is able to develop children’s literacy skills. There is also a lot of sleeping that goes on as well!
“Missy is a big dog with a massive heart, making a huge positive impact across the school with calmness off the scale that makes everyone feel relaxed. As a school we take our scholars’ mental wellbeing very seriously and she is boosting wellbeing in so many ways.”
Moira Marder, CEO of the Ted Wragg Trust said: “At the Ted Wragg Trust we take children’s mental health seriously all year round and it’s brilliant to hear about everything Isca Academy is doing to support students in this area. School dogs are a wonderful addition across a number of our schools and we have found their presence to be hugely beneficial.”