By Guest Blogger Kori Mackall, Director of Communications, The Piedmont School
The Piedmont School Reading Buddies: Having a PAW-sitive impact on reading
Several years ago when I was working in the public school system as a special education teacher, we had therapy dogs come visit our school on a regular basis. The dogs and their handlers would rotate classes and sit with students while they read. I found their presence to be especially beneficial for the struggling readers I worked with and always remembered this experience even after I left the public school system and moved into working at independent schools.
At The Piedmont School we work with bright students with average to above intellectual abilities who have a diagnosed learning difference such as ADHD, processing disorders, or a specific learning disability. Our students often come to us defeated from their previous environments and their constant struggle to learn. Many of our students struggle with reading in one way or another, be it decoding or comprehending. We have amazing, highly qualified, and creative teachers who work day in and day out to help our students close their achievement gaps. We are always looking for great ways to make learning fun and stress-free for our students.
Over the last few years I have been trying to put together a program at our school to bring therapy dogs in to visit our students in their reading classes. I have struggled in the past to find local, certified therapy dog teams in our direct area (High Point) as most already organized therapy dog reading programs seemed to be located just far enough that they were out of convenient reach for where we are located. I have volunteered for a few years with a local dog rescue, The Merit Pit Bull Foundation, and through the connections I have made there I was able to hook up with a fellow volunteer, Keana Lynch, who has been completing the last of her therapy hours with her rescue dog Gemma. One conversation led to another and we were able to work out her final therapy hours to be completed at TPS. Through a few more conversations I was also able to find one of our recently retired teachers, Anne Hall, and her recently certified therapy dog, Oakley. Between the two teams we have been able to kick off the TPS Reading Buddies program where the therapy dogs and handlers come on a rotation a few times a month to sit and let our students read to them.
The first few visits have been eye opening. Words cannot describe the feeling of watching our struggling readers relax, take a deep breath, and read with confidence to these dogs. Our students who are often plagued with anxiety over reading are finding peace reading to these sweet dogs. Some of our middle school students are already seeing the benefits of having Gemma and Oakley visit while they read. “It was so calming to read to her. She made me feel calm” said Will Saunders, a sixth grader. “I would love to have a school full of therapy dogs so they could be in all my classes because Gemma was just so calming” said seventh grader Grace Mohan.
Students have even made connections about the different personalities between the dogs. Grace noted, “Gemma was very timid at first. But once she got in the classroom and we sat down with her, she really snuggled up and even looked like she was watching us read!”. Others, like our youngest primary students, have noticed how bubbly and confident Oakley is and how she instantly warms up to everyone. “She’s so happy and she gave me kisses!” said Peyton Bluethenthal, a second grader.
Like people, the students are learning that dogs have different personalities as well. They are relating to the different personalities of the dogs and finding comfort in that. They know that some of them are more shy and timid until you get to know them and others are instantly comfortable in any social situation; a skill that all of us learn in our social interactions throughout our lives.
Our mission at The Piedmont School is to always be the educational oasis that quenches the thirst of students who learn differently. This often includes finding new and creative ways to build not just their academic but social confidence; our Reading Buddies are doing just that. They are helping our students no longer associate reading as a stressor or struggle, but as a calming and therapeutic activity. So far, I would say we are off with great success!
If you have a therapy dog and would be interested in participating in our Reading Buddies program at The Piedmont School please contact Kori Mackall, Director of Communications, by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can read more about our TPS Reading Buddy teams by viewing our blog on our website- www.thepiedmontschool.com
Sponsored by The Piedmont School