One of the biggest problems in the school systems is the combination of hurdles a student has to go through to be able to focus in school. This comes in all different forms for different students. Regardless of the situation or issue, at the end of the day they all play a part in hindering a student’s ability to focus on school.
There are many different things that can hinder a student’s ability to focus and excel in school. Some students experience personal problems that can get in the way. For example, a student who has to help their parents clean, cook dinner, and care for their younger siblings after school have to pay attention to that before they pay attention to school work. A student who has to skip meals because they do not have the financial means to have breakfast is more concerned about lunch time that the assignment on the board. You even see it in cases where students are dealing with things such as death of a close family member or friend. The student’s mind is else where due to the hardships that fall on them through out life.
Some students have educational disabilities that make it hard for them to excel in school. This can be anything from severe learning disabilities like autism to things such as dyslexia, ADHD, or functionally being mentally behind in grade level as compared to their fellow classmates. Some students may also have behavioral disabilities that can also hinder their want or expected needs to go to school. A student who is behaviorally challenged and frustrated are more focused on relieving that frustration than focusing on work
One of the biggest problems in schools today that causes a great deal of issues is bullying. There are countless students who do not have the drive or confidence to do school work because they are constantly being put down by fellow classmates. Even more so, now that our current generations have such a wide access to the Internet, they can be bullied by millions of people who are not even in close proximity to them. Things like this lead to students not excelling, and even worse ending their lives because they feel they have no way out.
All of these factors pile up and make a huge hurdle for each student to jump over in order to get to and be successful in school. Many students feel trapped by these hurdles and need help overcoming them with things such as academic help or personal help. Some students even more so, have a heard time asking for and accepting that help. They become embarrassed by these possible shortcomings and even though they know they need the help, they are afraid to be judged by others, which prevents them from seeking help. Sometimes as teachers we have no idea our students are even going through these problems.
One way we can combat these hurdles is through contact with animals. Animals have proven time and time again that they have a very positive impact on humans. Not only does the shire fact of being around animals help your overall stress levels and heart rate but animals can be trained to preform many different tasks to make human living easier. There are many different working animals in this world and they have all shown their ability to protect, serve, and love their human companions.
How we can solve these problems
Animals give people a sense of protection. There are plenty of animals who put their lives on the line every day to help people. Police dogs spring into action when their handlers need help. Guard dogs will protect you and your belongings at any cost. Dogs have shown time and time again that they are willing to put themselves in harms way to protect the people they love. This sense of protection is seen, felt, and loved by the humans who seek protection.
Animals give people a sense of belonging. Owning an animal helps people feel less lonely. Having someone in the home with you to talk to, cuddle, and love help people feel less alone, which in turn helps increase endorphins and help with overall stress levels. That sense of belonging can be the very thing that stops someone from ending his or her life.
We can translate this help to our students in the form on animal assisted therapy. Animal assisted therapy is a line of work that uses the love and support of animals to help people feel better. The love and companionship these animals give to their participants can show a world of difference when it comes a person’s confidence and self worth, which we can give to our students.
Animal assisted therapy has shown that it can help with a wide range of problems. For example, children who read to animals have shown a positive impact on the student’s ability to read. Students who read to animals have shown actual academic improvement. This is because the student have someone there to support them, someone who will not judge them if they read too slow or mess up on a few words. They have someone who is just there to listen to them and enjoy their company. This gives students the ability not only to continually practice but it also gives them the confidence to read. They get better with practice, with their animal companion.
Another example one can see student improvement in is behavioral issues. There are countless places, such as farms that work with children with behavioral issues. They facilitate the ability for the students to care for the animals on the farm. This includes things such as cleaning up after, feeding, and even bathing the animals. This ability has shown improvements in overall patience of the student along with things such as increased sense of responsibility, compassion, and decreased outbursts.
Animal assisted therapy can be a central way to help a lot of students and it still seems to be under utilized as a practice in any kind of therapy. This may be because there is not a lot of literature on it, people may not have the time or resource to facilitate things such as farms, or there may be an overall fear or medical inclination that hinders people from working with animals but there are still other animals and way to institute animal assisted therapy. Through out this research it is going to show that it may not be heavily seen or considered but it can and should be used in the best way possible.
Review of Related Literature
When the literature is looked at as a whole it can be seen that the more research that can be done the more data that can be used to show that animal assisted therapy could be a vital supplemental therapy option for students. The information that is already shows that the research done is mostly done short term and has shown positive results but small results. Having a bigger and longer research study would be able to potentially show that positive results can exist for an extended and permanent time.
Specific Research Question/Statement of the Hypothesis
There are many different things that can make it harder for students to focus on work. All students have different struggles. Some students even have multiple struggles. There are many different things that can be used to try and help our students but there is one that is not utilized enough. All of these struggles, as explained before can be combated with animal assisted therapy. If more school systems worked with therapy animal groups they could potentially reach even more students and help them overcome potential roadblocks they face. If students were given the option of animal assisted therapy as a way to combat these negative experiences in their life many would benefit from this option.
Who will you study?
There will be two sets of subjects in this study. There will be one set of subjects who will take a survey about their over-all idea of animals. There will be second set of subjects that will specifically be students of varying ages. These students will get to experience time with different animals. They will be asked a set of questions after they spent time with these animals to get a sense of what they gained from that experience.
The first set of subjects will show people’s overall idea of animals. Understanding people’s perception of animals can help show if there is an interest in animals. If a larger percent of people enjoy animals, it can be used to spark the idea of animal assisted therapy as a viable option.
The second set of students will show how students react to the presence of animals. The understanding of how a set of students will reach to animals will also show whether or not setting a program like this would be worth it. For example, if a large majority of the students participating in this experience do not see or feel a benefit from working with these animals then animal assisted therapy would not be a good option for those students.
What tools will you use to gather data?
The tools to gather data in this research will be a combination of surveys and recordings of personal experiences. The combination of both of these will hopefully show not only that there is an interest in animals but also students are able to have good experience with animals. That finding can allude to future interactions and success with animal assisted therapy.
The first survey is an eight-question survey that asks about the participant’s interests in animals. These eight questions consist of the following:
1. What is your experience with animals?
2. Are you allergic to any animals? Does that effect how you feel about animals?
3. Are you afraid of animals? If yes, why?
4. How do you feel about these specific animals (would you interact with them?)
– Dog, Cat, Pocket pets (hedgehogs/guinea pigs), Lizards, Birds, and Horses
5. What kind of animals would you prefer to interact with?
6. Have you ever worked with or owned any animals (i.e. volunteered in an animal shelter)
7. How do you think animals help people?
8. Can you define the job of a therapy animal and how they can be useful?
The first question is to see if people have a positive or negative view of animals. This can show a possible percentage of people who would have a positive outlook of possibly working with therapy animals. The second question is revolved around explaining why a person would possibly have a negative outlook on animals. For example, if someone were allergic to animals with fur they would not be able to work with dogs and cats but may be able to work with animals such as hedgehogs, lizards, or birds. The third question about fear also revolves around to possibly explaining why someone may have a negative view on animals. For example, if they are afraid of larger animals, they may be able to interact with smaller animals, like guinea pigs or young puppies. The fourth question is to see how people feel overall about the different kinds of animals that are commonly used as therapy animals. This type of question is to see a potential positive or negative correlation with common therapy animals.
The fifth question is to see what kind of animals people prefer to be around. This is to see if the animals that people want to interact with, can be satisfied by the commonly used therapy animals. The sixth question is to see how much time people voluntarily spend with animals. It asks if people have owned or worked with animals because there are some people who would love to own animals but cannot do to restrictions like apartment rules. This question revolves around finding out how comfortable people are around animals. The seventh question is to see how people view working animals and their relationship with their human handlers. If people see that animals can function as help for people than they can understand the benefits of a therapy animal. The eighth question goes along the same idea as the seventh question but it specifically deals with people’s views and understanding of therapy animals. Some people have no idea that working animals such as therapy animals even exist. Opening up that door could lead to a world of healing.
The second set of data is a combination of experience and recording of questions that revolve around that experience. This information can than be used qualitatively to show the positive or negative experiences those students specifically had while working with a therapy animal. There are four separate groups. Each group had a specific education group to give the research variety. Each group also had a unique animal experience to also give the research variety. Each group was comprised of ten students each to give the research a larger number of participants and data. The groups and questions are as followed:
The first two questions act as starter questions so they student can feel comfortable giving their opinion and confidently stating an answer. It also gives us an idea of how these students feel and what they know about animals. Questions three through five are questions that revolve around figuring out how the student’s experience with these animals may have changed or solidified how they viewed animals as a whole. This is important because some children are purely afraid or do not interact with animals because their parents are afraid of animals.
It is only after they have been given permission from the parents to interact with animals that they realize they may not truly be afraid of these animals. Some children may also have stereotypical views of animals and may need interactions like this to educate them about these animals so they understand it is acceptable to interact with them. These questions show the students feelings about animals to see if there is a positive correlation between feeling good or better and interacting with therapy animals. Question seven and eighth are to see how many students benefited from this experience enough to want to do it again. Animal assisted therapy sessions vary for people. Some people only need one or two sessions while other people have weekly sessions with their therapy companions. It all depends on the person, or in our case, student.
How will you make certain that you glean appropriate data that gives you the information that you need?
While gathering this information it will hopefully show that people have an interest in animals and have good experiences while they are with the group of animals they are with. If more people have positive experiences with animals than it can show a positive correlation with animal assisted therapy being helpful. If this happens then it would be beneficial for further studies to be conducted. In this case it would be best to work with all different students with all different problems who are willing to work with animal assisted therapy. If this research shows that many of these student’s problems can be tackled with animal assisted therapy then it will validate the use of animal assisted therapy as another viable option for students.
What did you actually do to gain data?
For the first experiment I went to five different locations and asked ten different people to fill out the survey about their overall view of animals. I choose five different locations so that there was a variety of people and possible answers. The five places were:
1. My local high school: I spoke to teachers, students, security guards, etc.
2. My local college: I sat in a common area and spoke to anyone on campus willing to participate
3. My local animal shelter (my job): I asked to leave ten copies for adopters, workers, etc.
4. My local grocery store: I sat out front in a common area and spoke to anyone willing to participate
5. My local park: I sat out front in a common area and spoke to anyone willing to participate
These places were chosen because they were all places with a diverse set of people who could answer these questions. Honestly, even the animal shelter because there are plenty of people who come through the shelter who are not fans of animals or people who gain a new appreciation for animals while at the shelter.
For the second experiment I had to work with other people to gain the ability to interact with specific students and gather information. It took a lot of coordinating with therapy animal groups or people who could allow me to piggy back off of their events to gather my information. For example, the college students participating in stress reducing baby animal cuddling. I was able to join the group who was hosting that event and ask college students to participate in my study while they enjoyed time with the animals.
What was your analysis procedure?
The analysis procedure consisted of 90 volunteers who either took a survey or had a session with an animal and they spoke about their experience. Both of these studies were brought together to analysis whether or not animals had a positive, negative, or no affect on each subject. The people who just took the survey talked were used to analysis how people felt about animals without giving them an experience with an animal to base it off of. This was to get a sense of if people have a connection with animals or not. The second set of subjects were given a specific animal experience to encounter and than spoke about that isolated experience. This was to analysis how people felt in the moment about the connection they had with a specific animal. This was to show whether or not these experiences would also have an overall positive, negative, or no affect on the subjects.
How did you make sense out of the information you have collected?
Once I was able to collect all the data I took each individual question and gave a positive, negative, or neutral point toward the question. This point system was than put into place to be able to chart out the experiences these participants had. Once all the information is collected and charted it will show whether or not all the participated had more of a positive, negative, or unaffected experience with animal assisted therapy. It will also hopefully help show how people view working animals and how much they understand working animals. Understanding this information can help point toward possible education about these animals and their benefits. Below you can see the points given to each question, in each category.
What inferences can you draw?
The inferences that can be drawn from these surveys and experiences are that people have an over-all positive experience with animals. They want to understand animals and how they can help people. People want to understand the animal connection and have the possibly to explore the idea of animal assisted therapy. It can also be inferred though that there are a decent amount of people who do not understand. They are not fully educated on working animals and their roles in society. This plays a role in people not understanding that animal assisted therapy is even an option in the first place.
On what basis?
This is based on a few factors. It can be seen in the literature and this research that being unaware or uneducated in this topic is a common theme. Because of this there is not a lot of research out there. The research that is present is more geared toward older people and people with severe mental issues. This research still shows how important the animal0human and is but it would be more beneficial if there where more research shown through schools.
What are your findings?
The findings in this research solidifies that more education on animal assisted therapy needs to be done. The more education that can be done in educating people on animals and their working benefits to humans, the more people will understand the connection we can have with animals. These findings also show that a majority of people in this research do have a more positive look on animals and how their connections with humans can help us in many different situations. The more research that can be done, especially in the school system, will help show the growing benefit of animal assisted therapy.
How does what you have discovered fit into the bigger picture?
When it comes to the bigger picture it can be seen that animal assisted therapy does have a positive impact on students and it should be explored as an option for more students. This research has also shown that the common person does need more education in working animals, how they play a role in our society, and how working animals, like therapy animals can be available for people. Further research that gives a positive outcome of animal assisted therapy can show therapist, schools, and society that animal assisted therapy can have a positive impact on people who truly need them.
How do your findings mix with the research literature? Does it support it?
Through out this research and the literature review it can be seen that there is a small positive impact on people who work with animals through animal assisted therapy. It can also be seen through this that more research needs to be done to help show that this positive correlation can be added to. Animal assisted therapy is still a new avenue that people are trying to understand and use. This shows why there is very little and on going research being done. At lot of the research including this one serves as a stepping-stone to bigger more in-depth research ideas. This is happening due to the lack of information and education on the topic. As our interest and education grow, more and more people can see the benefits of animal assisted therapy. Though it may not be the end all be all fix it is showing to be a growing possible option and an amazing supporting therapy for people. The more research that is done the more people will begin to understand the connection of animals to people and the more we will be able to utilize animal assisted therapy to its full capacity.
How might what you have found be utilized in a practical sense?
I think in a practical sense it would be best to first do more research when it comes to schools and students. The literature and research both show the benefits to people as a whole. Though this research does work with a number of students they are students that give a surface level of information about. If we want to see the true affect and positive impact therapy animals can have on our students it would be wise to dive deeper and have a study that follows several students but for an extended period of time. There could also be more understanding of the potential problems these students are going through, so that we can match hem with a particular animal therapy and watch the progress over time.
When it comes to an overall use, once research was able to show more evidence that it has an impact on students it can be taught as a possible option for students. For example, educating the ones who help our students to identify when animal assisted therapy could be useful. When a student is having a particularly hard time reading in class there could be several options for them to improve in reading. If these options were options that were not helping when it came to confidence increase, the school could give the option of animal assisted therapy. Many shelters, libraries, and therapy animal groups have the ability to team up and provide a safe space for children to come and read to animals. This may seem different, but many children have shown that their confidence builds because they feel that the animal is not judging them. In this sense, they feel okay to make mistakes and improve on them. They are happy they have someone to listen, not judge, and just be there for them during their journey of learning to read. This may be something that students can concern with other people instead of animals but for those who cannot, animal assisted therapy is a great option.
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