The art of reading has literally gone canine at the Locust Corner Elementary School.
For the last four years, the elementary school has been engaging it’s more than 400 students in reading to privately owned certified therapy dogs that come in for an hour once a week to the homerooms for the students to read out loud to the dogs.
The brainchild of physical education teacher and dog lover Kathy Wilson, who heard about reading dogs in other school districts and went online to learn more, the program, which is an all-volunteer program that does not cost the school anything, has attracted about 10 registered therapy dogs.
Every homeroom in the elementary school, K-3, has an assigned dog for the kids to take turns reading to; there is at least one reading dog at the school every day, all day.
The program is non-restricitive and involves choice reading, so the kids can choose whatever reading material they want.
Interestingly, the elementary school, which is in the New Richmond Exempted Village School District, has accumulated documented data that has shown that students' reading test scores have dramatically improved as a result of the reading dogs program.
"The data is amazing," said principal Julie Renner. "Over the years of the program, we have verified the fact that it really has increased student scores when it comes to fluency, comprehension, and retension - our students are becoming better readers because of the reading dogs program."
Renner thinks the improvement is due to the fact that the program is very therapeutic for children because dogs never turn them down, ask them to stop, slow down, look at pictures, use any clues, or work on word pronunciation.
"The dogs provide a comfort level," Renner asserts. "With reading to the dogs, kids can just focus on the sheer pleasure of reading, which in turn gives them a love of reading."
Each dog is accompanied by a handler, the dogs are clean and well-groomed, and it is a very well-run program that the students are very enthusiastic and excited about and the school staff and administration are thrilled about.
"Again, the program is comfortable and therapeutic," Renner said. "We love this program and have a lot of fun with it every day, but most importantly, it is helping kids build character and self-esteem. It is helping kids learn how to read and that's what it is all about."