Students, teachers and visitors climbing the steps to Carey Baptist Grammar School’s Student Development department are these days being greeted in a not-so-usual fashion.
Students attend Student Development for some time out, if they are upset or feeling overwhelmed. The team of psychologists, student guidance co-ordinators and talent development, learning development and first aid teams are there to help students however they can.
But as of Term 2 this year, a new staff member has joined with a whole new approach to student support. Luka-Barkley works predominantly in our reception area and has nominated himself as the greeter of all visitors.
As the bell sounds and the students and teachers move through the corridors, Barkley moves to the top of the stairs where he waits to welcome his next guest. His friendly offering has become a powerful engagement tool in connecting students to our team. At times, he also accompanies students in their one-on-one sessions with a psychologist, sitting at their feet and gratefully receiving pats.
Luka-Barkley, known usually just as Barkley, is a 20-month-old white Labrador whose sole job is to give unconditional affection to students visiting our department. Barkley came to us from Guide Dogs Victoria after choosing a different path and opting for a career in therapy. The new Therapy Dog Program at Guide Dogs Victoria has not only provided us with the most beautiful, loving and gentle dog, but they have also provided our team with training and resources to help us along our journey with him.
One of the aims of having a therapy dog at Student Development is to help students overcome any apprehension they may have in reaching out for Student Development support. Early indications suggest that Barkley is having the desired effect as many staff and students now come up just to say hello to him. Barkley is blissfully unaware of the broader impact he’s having in helping to destigmatise visits to Student Development. As one student recently said, ‘Barkley is the best thing that has happened.’
As students and staff arrive, Barkley's presence provides a wonderful distraction from other pressures and promotes healthy connections between people around him. Students often chat about their own pets, or family members’ pets and have questions about Barkley. If a student arrives distressed, Barkley will sit with the student and gladly accept the pats and tears with calm, non-judgmental ‘dogginess’. We have learnt that Barkley loves to sit with people, touching them in some small way, just with a part of his body on someone’s foot.
We are aware that not everyone is comfortable with dogs, and some are allergic. As such, we have dog-free days and dog-free rooms within the department. Barkley is also never left with a student unsupervised. If a student wanted to work on helping to manage their anxiety a dog might evoke, then the psychologists are well equipped to assist with this process.
We’d always hoped that a therapy dog would add to the student experience while attending Student Development. Barkley’s presence and loving engagement has proven as much.
We are very grateful we have been given the opportunity to have Barkley on our team and we are indebted to Tanya Taylor and Guide Dogs Victoria for making it possible for the Carey Student Development program to have such a highly trained dog on its team.
Acting Head of Student Development