Volunteers and First Graders Connect through Reading and DogsIf dogs are man’s best friend, then it’s no wonder they make a great pal for early readers. In Amy Scott’s first grade class last year, children were paired with reading volunteers and later, therapy dogs, encouraging young readers with their literacy development.It all began when Mary Eifert, principal at Ascension Lutheran School, asked if Mrs. Scott would be interested in using church volunteers to help read with first graders. When Mrs. Scott said she was, they asked for help in the church bulletin. The response was positive, opening the door to a program that encouraged literacy and forged a stronger partnership between the church and school. But the real satisfaction was seeing the relationships that happened as a result of the program.
“The kids got so excited,” Mrs. Scott says. “There were special bonds that happened between the reading partners and the kids. Some reading partners took kids under their wing and coached them.”The program not only allowed each child to read with a partner, it also freed up Mrs. Scott to work with other students on individual skills during the reading program.“Reading is something so important in first grade,” Mrs. Scott says. “The kids need a little extra support. One volunteer was a retired teacher and brought in her own supplies to help with concepts.”One of the reading partners, Lisa Yoqulet, took it a step further. She brought her dogs from the Three Rivers Visiting Dog Club. As “working” dogs they are used to being in public places and meeting new people, but did not have experience as “reading” dogs.“The dogs are used to working a room, but had to learn that they were just there to sit and listen,” Lisa adds. After adjusting to their new task, the dogs and the kids loved the experience.“The kids loved the excitement of getting to read to the dogs,” Lisa says. “They’d go to the library and think about what book they wanted to read to the dog. They would hurry in with big smiles on their faces. It was fun and we can’t wait to do it again next year.”The program was such a success that Mrs. Scott said they’re looking forward to next year.“It’s a chance for the students for sit down and read with adults one-on-one,” Mrs. Scott adds. “They’re building a relationship with each other.