What do teenagers need when the light at the end of the exams-season tunnel is nowhere to be seen and everything feels like a struggle?
For one Scottish school, the answer was clear: a Maltese Shih Tzu named after Steve Buscemi’s mob boss in Boardwalk Empire.
Cumnock Academy in East Ayrshire has welcomed a new addition to its teaching and support team: Nucky.
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Nucky’s owner, chemistry teacher Iona Steven (pictured, bottom), brought him into school to help pupils during their exams. His influence has been so positive that Nucky is now visiting a range of classes.
Ms Steven said: “When you walk through the corridors, pupils and teachers stop to say hello to Nucky and give him a pat; he brings a bit of happiness everywhere he goes. Before each exam, Nucky has been visiting the young people waiting to enter the exam hall. He loves all the attention, and the young people feel much calmer and more focused after his visit.”
She added: “His influence has been so positive that we have decided to take him into classes. The young people are so much calmer when he is there. He helped one first year boy, within our supported-learning centre, through a particularly difficult day, sitting by his side and giving him kisses when he needed them. It makes me proud that Nucky is helping so many of our young people.”
Headteacher Peter Gilchrist said: “Therapy pets are used widely in a number of settings to provide calm, comfort and love to people during difficult times.
"When we considered bringing Nucky into school, our first thought was for our young people sitting exams. Every parent knows what a stressful time this is for young people so the plan was for Nucky to come into school and provide some quiet reassurance to our young people, but his role has since developed.
“Dogs can provide affection, comfort and support to people who are anxious, but evidence also shows that dogs can provide positive support to young people with additional support needs.
"Nucky has been visiting nurture classes within the supported-learning centre and he adapts his behaviour to support the needs of our young people. Sometimes he is cheeky and fun, and sometimes he just provides cuddles and calm."
Mr Gilchrist added: “Nucky has done such a good job that, over the summer, we are going to recruit a full-time therapy dog for Cumnock Academy. The wellbeing of our young people is paramount.
“Good mental health goes hand in hand with achievement and we are committed to ensuring that we nurture our young people to reach their full potential.”