PAWS FOR READING: Therapy dogs lend an ear to Robins Elementary students

  • Published
  • By Amanda Creel
  • 78th ABW/PA
For many students reading out loud in class to their peers can be an overwhelming experience, where students dread making a mistake in front of their classmates.

This is why Beverly Kile, the reading teacher at Robins Elementary, jumped at the opportunity to bring therapy dogs into the classroom to help her students practice their oral reading skills without the pressure of impressing their peers.

"They read aloud to them and improve their oral reading. They are more relaxed because the dogs aren't critical," Ms. Kile said.

The opportunity for the dogs to join the Robins Elementary reading program was made possible by Therapups of Central Georgia through the Paws for Reading program, which is designed to help improve literacy using registered therapy dogs.

It was one of the Therapup handlers, who also works at Robins as the Combat Talon flight chief with the 572nd Aircraft Sustainment Squadron, Donna Hartnett, who asked the base elementary school if they would be interested in using the therapy dogs in the classroom.

Ms. Hartnett said her favorite part of the program is that it allows students to practice their reading in a non-critical environment.

"They don't criticize me and they are really cute, and, they help me out with my reading a lot," said Peyton Baskerville, 11.

The therapy dogs joined the Robins Elementary students for three weeks Monday through Thursday lending an ear as the students completed their 20 minutes of independent reading each day.

"I have seen a big difference in their reading and even some parents have told us they have noticed a difference too," Ms. Kile said.

Peyton agreed that her own reading has improved since the dogs started visiting their classroom three weeks ago.

"Now I am reading chapter books and before I was reading little small books," she said.

The students chose some of their favorite books to read to their canine friends.

"Flynn is the dog I read to the most. I just like reading with him. I read the "Magnificent Mummy" to Flynn. I choose that book because I am interested in ancient Egypt," said Salaam Goins, 10.

Salaam said he too thinks his reading has improved.

"I do less stuttering," he said.

Students involved in the program are thrilled with the opportunity to interact with the dogs and many of the students have a favorite therapy dog they always want to read to.

"She lays on my lap. Her name is Nora and she doesn't correct you if you mess up on a word," said Dylan Fiveash, 11.

"When Flynn first came out. She (Ms. Hartnett) taught us his tricks. He can do high fives," Peyton said. "Flynn gives you a high-five every time he's done reading."

Amy St. Clair, Nora's handler, said one of the most impressive things about the program is, "We become invisible when they are reading to the dog. They just become absorbed in reading to the dog," she said.

Ms. Hartnett agreed and said anything that can be done to help children gain more self-confidence is a great thing.

She said, "Dogs are good listeners and allowing the students to read to them without any distractions builds self-confidence."

Along with helping the students improve their reading skills, the students also get an opportunity to learn how to handle the dogs and are given the opportunity to test the dogs training through drills and by practicing their tricks with them.

Ms. Hartnett, Flynn's handler, said the program also helps children who are timid or afraid of dogs learn to interact with them without being scared.