|Four-legged tutors make reading fun for children|
Brandy listens to students read during the after school program.
A UMNS photo by Heidi Robinson.
By Heidi Robinson*
Nov. 16, 2006 | CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (UMNS)
Two four-legged reading coaches bring something special to an
after-school tutoring program at First Centenary United Methodist Church
Sixty children read out loud to two trained therapy dogs as part of a
partnership between the church and Read Aloud Chattanooga, an effort to
engage children in a life-long love of reading.
"Reading affects everything…math, science," says Karen Fletcher,
director of Inner City Ministry, an outreach program in this downtown
church. "When the children here improve their reading, we see grades go
up. And, everyone loves reading to these dogs. Many of the children in
our program have never had a dog, so it adds interest which makes the
reading even more special."
Peppy and her owner, Alice Clark, arrive
at First Centenary United Methodist Church for an afternoon of
listening to students read. A UMNS photo by Heidi Robinson.
All the children in the after-school program are considered "at-risk"
either because of low test scores or home situations. But the church
sees these children as future bookworms, and the dogs are part of that
Beverly Trobaugh, an early childhood educator at the church and
liaison between the programs, explains, "When you are reading to a dog,
you are reading to someone who is totally accepting, and non-judgmental.
If a reader struggles, or stumbles that dog will just sit there, and
smile. It is an encouraging listener who will not correct, just cuddle.
So reading becomes something that makes you feel good."
On a recent afternoon, anticipation builds in the reading room.
"After you've selected your story, have a seat in the circle so we can
read and wait for the dogs," says Fletcher.
In the church parking lot, a van door slides open. Brandy, a
golden-retriever, sedately steps from the van, while Peppy, an
aptly-named terrier-mix, hops out and heads for the door.
Both dogs started as therapy dogs, but received additional training
that allows them to work with children. As the dogs make their way down
the hall they receive a hero's welcome.
"Ooh, the dogs are here!" squeals a middle-school girl. "It just makes it so exciting to read to the dogs."
Smiling students in the reading room greet Brandy and Peppy with pats
and squeezes. As the children and dogs settle on the floor, the
students begin to read, and the dogs sit quietly, gazing at each
After each child takes a turn, the dogs receive heart-felt hugs, and
head off to the next room, where a fourth grader named Jemell has been
waiting. "The dogs can tell I have improved my reading," he insists as
he settles in to read a joke book. "And, they like funny books."
*Robinson is a freelance producer based near Cleveland, Tenn.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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First Centenary United Methodist Church