By Jonathan Coles

Welcome to the school where a 70kg St. Bernard roams the corridors – acting as a canine counsellor.

Headteacher Vicki Joyce started bringing her pet Missy to Exeter’s Isca Academy in September 2022.

The two-year-old dog has since become a firm favourite with pupils, parents and teachers alike – and is helping with mental health.

Headteacher Vicki Joyce’s two-year-old St. Bernard Missy is a firm favourite with pupils, parents and teachers alike (Pix via SWNS)

One mum even described Missy as a “Godsend” and said she had helped her daughter settle into ‘big school’.

Headteacher Vicki 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.”

Headteacher Vicki Joyce’s two-year-old St. Bernard Missy is a firm favourite with pupils, parents and teachers alike (Pix via SWNS)

A 2022 research paper into therapy dogs concluded that dog-assisted interventions can reduce stress levels in school children, with effects lasting over the school term.

Ellie, 11, started at the school – which has around 1,000 pupils – in September last year.

She 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.’”

This week (February 5 to February 11) is Children’s Mental Health Week.

Headteacher Vicki Joyce’s two-year-old St. Bernard Missy is a firm favourite with pupils, parents and teachers alike (Pix via SWNS)

Moira Marder, CEO of the Ted Wragg Trust, which runs Isca Academy, said: “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.”

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.


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