Boo Who? A Cockapoo who listens in Reading To Dogs, An Innovative Elementary Afterschool ProgramHow can anyone resist that adorable face with the adoring eyes of such a perfect listener?
Apparently, the cockapoo named Boo has proven irresistible to select students attending Reading to Dogs, a new, pilot program held afterschool at Sunrise Drive. During each small-group session of 45 minutes, Boo nestles with the participants on the blanket with pillows, and rests her head on the lap of the student reading aloud. She patiently listens, her bright eyes alert and her eyebrows arched, as the student becomes more confident in reading fluency.
But, Boo is no ordinary dog. She and her owner, Sayville School District Speech-Language Pathologist Wendy Barrick, are volunteers who have both been trained and certified at Bideawee through Delta Society. Ms. Barrick serves as a listener and coach who keeps the reader and Boo focused and on track, offering assistance whenever necessary.
“We have been volunteering for pet therapy since 2008.” Ms. Barrick explained, “and have gone through the initial certification process, as well as recertification and retraining processes that are required every two years. For three years, Boo and I went to nursing homes and visited the elderly people, always making them smile. Boo has that effect on people! Then we decided we wanted to try and go further, so we took a class at Bidewee to become Reading to Dogs partners.”
“It’s cool and fun, and the dog really listens,” offered Fourth graders Hannah and Melissa who both love the opportunity to practice their reading skills with someone as engaging as Boo. Even High School student Emma Prokesch, who originally joined as an aide for the Homework Helpers (the afterschool program funded by “Friends of Sayville Education Foundation, Inc.”) admitted she was glad to have been recommended by Mrs. Castello to assist instead with the Reading to Dogs sessions. “I thought it was a great idea and I thought it would be really fun.”
The Reading to Dogs program encourages student to practice more, which is the best way to improve reading skills. “So if they have a less stressful, nonjudgmental environment with a very forgiving and loving creature—like a dog that has been trained to do that,” Ms. Barrick added, “It’s a much more comfortable situation conducive for learning.” Overall, it boosts the students’ self esteem by freeing them from their own inhibitions about their reading abilities.
Before and after the reading sessions, there is time set aside to pet Boo and give her some treats, but thanks to their weekly sessions with Boo, the real reward can be measured in how Reading To Dogs has increased the students’ love for reading.