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WBTV: Summer program uses dogs to boost reading scores

By Dedrick Russell
Published July 22, 2015

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -The summer has gone to the dogs at the Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL) Summer Program. The six-week program held at Barringer Academic Center is helping students master reading. In order for that to happen, three therapeutic dogs come to the classrooms, Rosie, Wilson and Drew.

Teachers say the four legged helpers make a difference.

"When they are reading to the dog," Teacher Leavy Forte said. "Their focus is a little different. I think that they are in an element where they are relaxed and they can feel a little more at ease. "So they are not really focused how fast am I reading right now, am I retaining this information while I am reading and then at the end when we question them they'll answer the questions a lot easier."

After the program students take a reading test they must pass to go to the next grade.

"We take on these scholars in six weeks," BELL Instructional Coach Tiffany Craig said. "And grow them enough to allow them to retake the Read to Achieve test."

Students are very comfortable around the dogs. They pet the dog, play with the dog's tale and even lay on the dog. Teachers claim this is therapy the students need.

"A lot of the kids have a lot of pressure," Forte said. "That they have to deal with because we have End of Year testing and they know they need to pass these tests, but when the dogs come in they relax - it's not so much about passing the test - it's more like let me sit down with the dog."

Research shows reading programs involving dogs, students reading test grades improve and they learn to read more words in a minute. There is a reason why dogs are fit for the task.

"Dogs are not judgmental," Trainer Joyce Stephens said. "They are not going to correct a child or criticize a child if they miss a word."

It takes about a year to train a dog for this job. The dogs must learn about 60 commands before being allowed in the classrooms. The dogs are so trained, when a particular vest is placed on the animal, they know it's time to go to work. They are much quieter and calmer for the students.

"For them it becomes a positive experience," Stephens said. "During the reading and it's not work but fun."

One student was tested by his teacher recently. He had good news to share because he read with a dog.

"We have one scholar in particular," Craig said. "He told me his reading level went up. He told me that yesterday.
He was so happy."

Besides the dogs, educators say the reading material also helped students confidence and scores. The books this summer dealt with animals.

"The scholars love these books," Craig said. "Because I think they are feeling like they are learning something. They are the scientists they are, the scholars that we call them."

This is the first year dogs have been used in the BELL Summer Program.