Facility Dog Apollo graduates with his primary school peers
On Monday evening, Kidman Park Primary School celebrated the graduation of their Year 7 students, with the acknowledgement of a very special scholar.
Facility Dog Apollo has been changing the lives and school experience of students with autism spectrum disorder and behavioural challenges, alongside his handler, Deputy Principal Amanda Walker.
At the graduation ceremony, Dog Services Operations Supervisor at Guide Dogs, Tracey and Guide Dog Trainer, Kath presented Apollo and Amanda with his very own Certificate of Graduation in front of his admiring peers.
Amanda, who cares for Apollo fulltime, says he has made a significant impact on not only the children but the wellbeing of staff.
"Apollo has initially been working with 15 students in the school, most of which are on the autism spectrum or have experienced trauma," she explains.
"We do walks together where I have a chat to the kids and they hold Apollo's coat handle and debrief about what's happening for them and how they're feeling."
"Alternatively, if a student has completely shut down, Apollo will kind of nuzzle his way in and they'll soon start talking about what has happened and why."
Apollo has also been supporting 17 children living with severe multiple disabilities, in the school's Learning Centre, where he wears a sensory jacket.
"It's probably the most labour intensive part of Apollo's work here because he has to focus really hard and make contact with wheelchairs," Amanda says.
"The teachers have noticed some real progress in some of these kids."
"When they see Apollo they're willing to push themselves to reach and grab something off of his sensory jacket."
He also enjoys his library visits with Amanda five times a week.
"The kids think he can read because he's really good at looking at their books and it actually does look like he's reading," she says.
Apollo is used as an incentive or reward for students with behavioural challenges.
"Their go-to was 'I want the iPad if I do my work', but now it's 'I want to take a friend and go and play with Apollo'," Amanda explains.
As well as this, Apollo teaches the students about the correct etiquette around Guide Dogs, Autism Assistance Dogs, Therapy Dogs and Facility Dogs while they're working.
"When he comes on my three or four yard duties a week he'll wear his bandana and the kids know that they can come up and ask to pat him. They're really respectful to not call him," Amanda says.
Apollo is also a keen participant in school events, including the fundraising fun run, concerts and of course, his own birthday celebrations.
On a companion level, Amanda describes Apollo as "amazing."
"My children are so lucky and they love him to bits. He's just fitted into the family amazingly."
Both Apollo and Amanda have passed their Public Access Test (PACT), however, because he is a Facility Dog, Apollo only has access to the school he is working at.
As the graduating Year 7's begin their high school journey, Apollo will remain at Kidman Park Primary where Amanda hopes he will stay in classes for longer periods without her by his side, as he matures in his role.
Apollo has laid a great foundation for the use of Facility Dogs in South Australian schools and is a testament to the impact these important dogs have on the learning outcomes and overall wellbeing of students and staff.