Wellbeing coach Carol Gollschewsky with wellbeing dog Angel at their Lake Macdonald home.
Wellbeing coach Carol Gollschewsky with wellbeing dog Angel at their Lake Macdonald home.

Noosa’s Angel spreads wellbeing

THERE’S an angel from Noosa who’s doing wonderful things for school students in Maryborough.

Angel is a six-month-old labradoodle who has been intensely training from her tenth week as a Wellbeing Dog.

Dogs in institutions such as schools are not completely new but Angel is pioneering a whole new program as Education Queensland embraces every aspect of wellbeing in its places of learning.

“A wellbeing dog is trained to be a source of wellbeing for an entire school community, including staff students, parents and [the community],” owner and school Wellbeing Coach Carol Gollschewsky said.

Carol and Angel live in Lake Macdonald, spending three days a week at the progressive, 850-student Maryborough High School under the inspired leadership of principal Simon Done.

“Angel’s day starts when she arrives at school, having a wonderful time meeting and greeting everyone, making hundreds of kids smile as she makes her way through the school,” Ms Gollschewsky said.

“She then walks through the office to greet staff and teachers.

“Angel’s personality and the way she’s been trained makes a very intuitive, happy, confident dog and our school’s put plenty of protocols in place, so there’s a whole way the kids need to learn to interact with her,” she said, which as a bonus helps kids to better respect and manage their own pets.

“Wellbeing dogs have the ability to change a culture in an environment; they’ve been used a lot in America and the UK in schools, but it’s not something that’s been picked up in Australia so far.

“We’re the only school we’re aware of where a wellbeing dog has gone in at puppy stage; she started her work at 10 weeks to socialise in a school environment.

“In a way the program has developed around her and her personality, interactions, and the needs of the school, particularly the students.”

If a student is really stressed, Angel will “go to them, lean up against them, give heaps of cuddles — and you can actually watch the student de-stress, relax and become happier”.

“The neuroscience of learning is if young people are highly stressed there is an inability to learn as well or as easily — if they’re relaxed they’re a lot more open to learning.

“Angel is able, not only individually but in the environment, to create an atmosphere of openness, relaxation and joy – to want to be at school, to engage.

“In a classroom she can help young people if the energy in the room is escalating; Angel coming into the classroom will de-escalate the stressful situations and make the kids relaxed and happy again.”

Maryborough High School Year 8 students Harry Warren and Jeff Kimber attending Angel's Paws for Literacy Club.
Maryborough High School Year 8 students Harry Warren and Jeff Kimber attending Angel's Paws for Literacy Club.

Angel also heads up the school’s new Paws for Literacy program, where reluctant or non-confident students sit and read to her as the “audience” to help them develop joy and confidence in literacy.

She has interacted with young people with grief, stress or anxiety issues and she’s worked with groups that have higher needs.

It’s early days, but anecdotal evidence is suggesting school attendance is markedly improving.

Angel has developed a rock-star character — she did her first television interview on her first day and has met the city’s mayor. And her social media profile on the school‘s site is popular.

“It was actually a challenge at first — there was no way of predicting the outcome,” Ms Gollschewsky said.

“I chose a labradoodle; that breed is chosen as assistance dogs for their nature and their hypo-allergenic qualities but there’s no way to predict if Angel would love actually being at a school.”

Education Queensland is taking an interest in how things are developing, and other state schools are ringing up for advice about Angel’s pioneering endeavours, and how to develop their own programs.

It was critically important to get the school community including parents and staff onside, so Mr Done worked with Ms Gollschewsky to develop the program.

“We’d prepared the school by running assembly announcements and social media to say this was going to happen and the very first day Angel came to school was amazing,” Ms Gollschewsky said.

“Not only did she leap out of the car to say ‘Let’s go, I’m ready’, kids started yelling out ‘Look, there’s Angel’.”