Canine reading buddies help kids improve their skills

Over the course of the school year, two therapy dogs helped Janet Polizois’ second-graders and Dina Carmelengo’s third-graders boost their reading skills. Smokey and Tippi from Creature Comfort
Pet Therapy of Morris Plains visited every two weeks to be the good listeners they are. During each session, the students spent about an hour reading to the dogs in small groups – Smokey in Mrs. Polizois’ class and Tippi in Mrs. Carmelengo’s. The kids in each class then gathered in a circle to read together to their reading buddy.

“Smokey and Tippi motivated them to read and learn,” said Mrs. Polizois. “The experience really helped with their oral fluency and made them more comfortable reading in front of others. They would hug their dog as they were reading, it was so moving.”

The reading sessions and all the other work done by students and teachers paid off. The results from a spring reading assessment show that each student substantially improved on reading ability and comprehension when compared to the start of the year. Other assessments completed periodically throughout the year were used to help teachers monitor student progress and identify strengths and weaknesses. This helped them create personalized learning strategies for students to target skills such as decoding sight words, improving comprehension, and citing text evidence.

“I am so proud of the effort they put in and how they grew,” Mrs. Polizois said. “The data reflects their hard work.”

The Reading Buddies program came to a close with a June 13 celebration. Smokey and Tippi visited wearing mortarboard graduation hats, accompanied by their respective owners, Lynn Livingston and Lenore MacKenzie. Each student received a certificate of completion, a stuffed animal book buddy of the class’ dog so they can each practice their reading skills over the summer, and a personalized booklet with a photo of himself or herself reading to the dog. 

“This year was such a success!” said Mrs. Carmelengo. “We hope to partner with these special dogs and their owners again next year.” 

Smokey is a mini-schnauzer and Tippi is a golden retriever. 

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