Helping children improve their literacy
Good Dog pups help kids learn to read
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Justin Ortiz sits on a rug in Room 202, Christy Crawford’s third grade classroom. “It’s 6 o’clock in the morning,” the 8-year-old tells Bodhi. “It is time to wake up.”
Actually, it’s 2:45 in the afternoon, and Bodhi, a 58-pound standard poodle, is awake and at work helping children improve their literacy. He’s listening to Justin read the children’s book “In the Morning.”
“I’m a little bit shy,” explains Justin, a second grader. But with Bodhi, Justin doesn’t feel foolish if he gets a word wrong. “It’s just a dog,” he explains.
Bodhi is one of 25 certified therapy dogs sent by the Good Dog Foundation to work in six schools and four New York Public libraries. Their mission: help children like Justin read better by having them do it aloud.
Building children’s reading confidence is the purpose of the program. When schools ask for help, the Brooklyn organization assigns volunteer dog-and-owner teams so students can read to them.
“Bodhi loves to help kids learn to read,” says Suzanne Soehner, his owner.
On the second floor of PS 51, the Bronx New School, children ages 7 to 10 meet each Tuesday afternoon for a reading club. They practice reading out loud, and Crawford listens for students’ comprehension.
The reading club competes with basketball, cooking and knitting clubs, so “having the dog is a big draw,” says Crawford. Once the pooch arrives, the children can’t wait to get there.
Children who lack confidence often read barely above a robotic whisper, mostly because they fear getting words wrong. Having a dog present “has a real calming effect,” says Crawford.
Struggling readers also get stuck trying to decode unfamiliar words. Shanon Santiago stumbles on the word “revolution” while reading “Young George Washington.” She keeps practicing, and when her turn to read to Bodhi comes, she nails it. “She was fearless,” says Crawford.
The Good Dog Foundation can be contacted at (718) 788-2988 or http://www.thegooddogfoundation.org If yo.u have a certified therapy dog or want to get certification, contact Suzy Nastasi, the foundation’s training director.