It’s not every day that you find a dog in school, especially in a reading class, but at Batavia Elementary, Lizzie visits the school twice a week and helps students who are learning to read.
Jan Blankemeyer, a Title I teacher at Batavia Elementary and her golden doodle, Lizzie, are part of the Reading Education and Assistance with Dogs Program.
Lizzie, 3, is a mixture of golden retriever and standard poodle and before she could become part of the Pet Partners Program, she had to be certified in the Delta Society and become a certified therapy dog. The Delta Society is a human-services organization dedicated to improving people’s health and well-being. This is accomplished through positive interactions with animals.
Blankemeyer got Lizzie as a puppy and said she wanted to train her but wasn't sure just what sort of training she wanted her to have until she found out about the therapy pets and Delta Society.
"I checked into the program and got her certified," said Blankemeyer.
Blankemeyer incorporates Lizzie into her lessons to encourage children to read. Many of the second grade students in the class don't like to read or are having trouble with reading or comprehension and the calming effect that Lizzie brings to the class helps the students stay focused. Lizzie has been a READ dog for two years and carries her certification papers with her in her vest while on the job.
"People who meet Lizzie at home just can't believe that she would be calm enough to take to school," said Blankemeyer. "She reacts differently when she is on the job."
Lizzie has helped children develop confidence when reading, and one student told Blankemeyer that Lizzie helped him to stay calm while he was reading.
On Jan. 21, the students were reading the book "The Snowy Day," by Ezra Jack Keats. Each student took a turn reading a page from the book while Lizzie laid on the floor listening. The students petted Lizzie as they were reading and her response to the attention was to listen.
Blankemeyer incorporated questions about the book, supposedly from Lizzie, to help with reading comprehension. Blankemeyer pulled out "Lizzie's Basket of Questions" regarding the story and each of the children read a question and they all discussed the answers.
The students also learned new words and their meanings as they worked with Lizzie. She had a pile of pictures under her front paws and had the children select a picture with a portion of a word to familiarize them with the sounds of letters. Each child had to tell Lizzie what the word was.
"The presence of Lizzie helps to keep the children focused and decreases the stress level that can happen when students are apprehensive about learning a new skill," said Blankemeyer.
The READ program was introduced in November 1999 with the mission to improve the literacy skills of children in a unique approach. The program employs a classic concept of reading to a dog. These specially trained animals volunteer with their owner handlers and offer children an opportunity to improve their reading in a setting which has proven effective and fun.
The Delta Society Pet Partners program trains volunteers and screens them and their pets for visiting animal programs in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, schools and libraries. The program was established in 1990 to ensure that "both ends of the leash" people as well as animals, are well-prepared to participate in animal-assisted activities and therapy programs.
For more information about the Delta Society, visit www.deltasociety.org.