Cockapoo puppy joins college to support vulnerable childcare students

Leeds City College’s newest member of staff, a 12-week-old cockapoo puppy named Jeffrey, has already improved students’ attendance, punctuality and their eagerness to learn since joining this month, according to staff, who are also feeling the benefits.

Jeffrey joined the Health Sciences, Childhood & Education and Public Services department at the college this month to support vulnerable students and provide emotional support.

The college runs childcare course from Levels 1 through to 4, including the Early Years Educator course. It currently has 350 childcare students, the majority of which are aged 16-18.

Cockapoo Jeffrey (a cocker spaniel/poodle cross) attends a number of classes, always accompanied by a member of staff, and students can read aloud and care for him. He will also be joining students on their forest school training sessions.

Staff are putting together a rota for Jeffrey detailing what classes he will attend and for how long.

In between classes, Jeffrey lives in the department’s office where he has a play pen. Students can come to visit him if he is awake. When Jeffrey is asleep a sign is put on the office door to let students know not to disturb him.

Alongside his time at the college, Jeffrey is attending puppy school. Once he has graduated, the college hopes to register him as a pets for therapy dog, which will mean he will be able to go into early years settings and schools and work with young children.

Outside college hours, Jeffrey lives with the deputy head of childcare Emma Langford.

Sheila Lucciarini, head of childcare and public services at Leeds City College, said, ‘We looked into how we can further support vulnerable students and provide emotional support. We provide a lot of one-to-one support with these students but wanted to take this further so looked into pets as therapy as an option.

‘Studies suggest that pets play an effective role in supporting the young and elderly. Dogs are often very familiar, students may have a dog at home or in the family, or may want a dog. They act as security blankets.

‘We have quite a lot of vulnerable students and from disadvantaged backgrounds, who don’t always have the confidence needed for the workplace.

‘We are in the middle of the city centre and a lot of these students have come from being in school, mainly in suburban areas, so it can be a big transition. Some of these learners have also had their confidence knocked at school and it needs building up again. We do this in a nurturing way with lots of practical activities.

‘We researched what breed would be best. It needed to be a low-allergen breed to ensure the health of safety of students that suffer with allergies. We chose a cockapoo for its hypoallergenic coat and its temperament. Cockapoos are a calm fun and lively breed that are very sociable and like to be stroked and cuddled.

'Jeffrey is teaching students empathy and how to nurture. There are a lot of parallels to caring for Jeffrey and young children.’

Deputy head of childcare Emma Langford said Jeffrey has already had a positive impact on students and staff.

‘We’ve found students with severe mental health that don’t attend regularly are now coming in more as they know Jeffrey will be in a class. It has also helped students’ punctuality and attendance in general. Jeffrey helps motivate students.

‘He (Jeffrey) can already sit on command. The students really appreciate Jeffrey following their commands as they feel like someone has listened and responded.

'As Jeffrey is often very relaxed when he is in the office as he is worn out after being in classes with students, it had made the office a lot quieter and calmer.

‘He has also helped a member of staff who has had a bereavement. She has been taking him for a walk at lunchtime, which she has said is really helping her. Jeffrey is taken out for walks throughout the day.'

The college will be conducting research into the impact Jeffrey has on its most vulnerable students, particularly those with autism and additional needs, and their achievement levels.

It will also be documenting Jeffrey’s progress and activity with a blog on the college’s website and through its social media including Instagram.

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