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Animal magic?

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THEY HAVE BEEN MAN’S best friend for thousands of years.

But only now are the benefits of learning with dogs being realised in Welsh classrooms.

Schools in south-west Wales have opened their doors to humble hounds in a bid to raise pupils’ confidence and self-esteem.

The innovative ‘Burns By Your Side’ scheme helps children in a variety of settings to develop their reading and communication skills.

One head teacher has spoken of the ‘calming effect’ it has had on pupils with special educational needs.

The scheme provides targeted pupils with the opportunity to read – on a weekly or fortnightly basis – to a volunteer and their dog, usually in sessions running over the course of a school term.

Typically, a volunteer will spend around 15 minutes with a child on an individual basis and keep a short record of each session.

To date, the scheme has involved a small number of schools (primary, secondary and special) and settings – such as libraries and nurseries – across the south-west Wales region.

An initial study to explore the impact of bringing dogs into classrooms, facilitated by researchers at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) Yr Athrofa – Institute of Education, has unearthed some promising results.

All schools and all children involved have reported favourably on the initiative and teachers have noted that pupils respond positively to the presence of the dogs, look forward to sessions and are keen to take part.

Helen Lewis, Primary PGCE Programme Lead and UWTSD’s Burns By Your Side co-ordinator, said: “The dog is a non-judgemental listener, whose very presence may calm and relax reluctant and anxious readers.

“With well-versed handlers acting to support the reading process, the act of reading to a dog can support children in making meaning of text and can encourage them to express personal responses in a safe environment.

“Dogs do not judge, glance at their watch if it is taking a long time to read a page, or sigh in frustration at mistakes – they are willing companions and their silence speaks volumes.”

Following the success of the reading with dogs pilot study, Burns By Your Side is now working with UWTSD and a greater number of schools in order to undertake a more rigorous body of research.

Organisers are conducting a mixed-methods, systematic review into the impact of reading with dogs on metacognition, attitudes to learning and reading levels in classrooms across South Wales.

In each of the 12 schools currently engaged with the project, four to six children who are struggling to make progress in reading have been identified and receive weekly sessions with the visiting dog and handler.

At the start of the project the children were given baseline assessments, such as standardised reading tests and other measures of attitude towards learning.

A similar group of children who were not in the intervention group were also given the same tests to provide a control measure.

At the end of the intervention, which will have lasted for an academic year, the tests will be repeated and results analysed.

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Community

Christmas gift fair returns

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Last year at the Food Fair: The annual Christmas celebrations return this year

NEXT Friday (Oct 20), the annual craft and gifts extravaganza will return to Aberystwyth Arts Centre to get the locals in the mood for Christmas.

The Winter Craft & Gift Fair is sure to get visitors feeling festive in the run up to Christmas with over 80 stalls selling a wonderful array of crafts and gifts, many produced by local makers from Ceredigion and mid Wales.

This year will feature many regular stalls, as well as some who will be selling at the fair for the first time, so prepare to discover the unusual and unexpected at this year’s fair with it’s new layout and products for 2017.

The fair will be open from 10am to 8pm, Monday to Saturday and 12 to 5.30pm on Sundays all the way up until December 23.

On Saturday​,​ ​November ​​25, ​the Arts Centre’s Christmas Food Fair will take over the Great Hall for the day. There will be the very best of Welsh produce with cheese, meats, fish, wine, cider, pastries, puddings, jams and much, much more from many local producers. The Food Fair is the perfect place to stock up on a few gastronomic goodies in the run up to Christmas. There will also be live musical entertainment to get you in the Christmassy mood! The fair will be on 10am-4pm and entry is free!

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Community

‘​I​t’s ok to say’

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FUW raise awareness: Urging people to 'say' on World Mental Health Day​

​ON WORLD MENTAL HEALTH DAY, farmers across Wales are being reminded that ‘it’s ok to say’ and the Farmers’ Union of Wales is urging them not to hide problems from themselves, their families and friends and to talk about their personal feelings.

The FUW made a commitment at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show in July to continue raising awareness of mental health problems in rural communities and is therefore renewing the call for those who might be suffering from mental health problems to seek help.

“The focus of this year’s World Mental Health day is on mental health in the workplace and farms are just that. In our places of work we’ve faced some pretty low-points in the last few years. Bovine TB, price volatility and uncertainty about our future post-Brexit, this all puts a strain on our resolve and will have many feeling stressed and under immense pressure,” said Union President Glyn Roberts​.​

“But we must break the stigma attached to mental health, so if you’re feeling vulnerable, please open-up and speak to someone. That doesn’t just mean today, but always. Farmers and farming families need to continue talking openly about what they are experiencing and the FUW strongly encourages anyone who is worried about their own mental health or a loved-one, to seek help from the Farming Community Network, Tir Dewi, The DPJ Foundation, Mind Cymru or Call Helpline Wales,” added Glyn Roberts.

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Scholarship scheme funds student’s Masters

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One of the chosen few: Stella Foster (Pic. Mark Woodward)

A TALYBONT native is one of just 28 people in the UK to be awarded a scholarship granted by energy company ScottishPower.

Stella Foster, 32, gratefully received the grant from the Scottish Power Foundation for the 2017/18 academic year.

Having just completed an undergraduate degree in Chemistry at the University of York, Stella will begin her Masters in Environmental Sciences this week at the University of East Anglia. Environmental science degrees integrate biology, physical science and information sciences to examine environmental systems (air, water, etc.) and how they interact.

The sought-after scholarship covers full enrolment costs as well as a living allowance. On top of this, the scholars will receive unique opportunities including meeting leading industry professionals.

“Travelling around the world and living in China before I started my undergraduate studies made me aware of the astounding change of pace in urbanisation; the two-hour bus ride from where I lived to Shanghai, there wasn’t a moment where you couldn’t see a construction site,” Stella said.

“This fast and dramatic development creates issues with the environment, and I’m really excited to learn about the creative and fascinating solutions out there, and hopefully come up with some of my own,” she added.

Since it was launched in 2010, the ScottishPower Foundation scholarships programme has provided £1.5m in grants towards training the next generation in their chosen field.

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