Making Reading Fun

Through the Gulf Coast Humane Society’s new Read and Roll Over program, homeless dogs help kids build confidence in reading.

By: Kaitlin Calk

Learning to read is no easy task, and when children are falling behind the rest of their class, it can be extremely discouraging for them. Reading may then become a negative, embarrassing experience. With the new Gulf Coast Humane Society (GCHS) program, Read and Roll Over (RRO), reading becomes fun again! This program allows struggling students to practice reading with a dog from GCHS. This creates a positive environment in which reluctant readers gain confidence and a love for reading.

The School of Science and Technology (SST) has been host to this program just a few times since its inception, and it is already wielding amazing results. Rosie Saenz is the technology applications teacher and robotics coach at SST, as well as a volunteer at GCHS. She wanted a way to combine her two loves: teaching and dogs. Out of this desire, the RRO program began. She worked with Mia Guerra, the manager of outreach services at GCHS, to get things rolling, and roll they have.

“Just this past week, I had a fifth-grade student who had the opportunity to read to one of our dogs,” Saenz says. “She is a very shy young lady who is several grade levels below in reading skills. Yet during the hour of the RRO, she became more outgoing and started petting the dog. Next thing you know, she is reading very well to the dog in this nurturing environment. She saw me in the hall a few days after this exchange and asked, ‘When are the dogs coming back? I want to read to them!’ This is huge. We have a reluctant reading student who wants to read and is asking to read!”

Murray Bergman, the reading specialist at SST, sees many benefits to this less traditional program. “Traditionally, children are partnered with older students who listen to them and give feedback or correct mistakes,” Bergman explains. “These types of programs are fine, and can help students. However, if a student is reluctant to read by nature, then having an older peer hear their mistakes or correct them can also have a detrimental effect on their reading. They want to be ‘cool’ around the older kids. This is where our program helps. Dogs don’t judge, they don’t correct, they don’t make faces or tease you later about your mistakes. Dogs just watch and listen and occasionally lay down. The children want the dogs to be happy, so they focus their energies on reading well.”

GCHS houses hundreds of dogs that, until they are adopted, generally don’t see much of the outside world. RRO is geared toward building the confidence of the dogs of GCHS, as well as that of struggling young readers.

“The dogs at GCHS are all amazing,” Saenz says. “Many have been there for so long that they have no idea how to interact with people or families, especially children. Now the dogs not only get a car ride, but they get to socialize with several people at a time, as well as children. During this time, the dogs are allowed to be a ‘family dog,’ as the environment is very relaxed. We are all lying on a rug getting comfortable and just reading. The dogs are petted, given ‘cookies,’ talked to, endless belly rubs and of course, kisses! So many do not get this important interaction, and after all, dogs are truly social creatures. Now they receive this necessary and essential social interaction to demonstrate that, no matter the circumstances they may have come from, there are many humans who are good. This is what is so crucial: showing the dogs that their demonstration of unconditional love is truly a gift.”

The RRO program began at SST, and it is ready to grow. GCHS is hoping to expand the program to different schools in Corpus Christi, and it already comes highly recommended.

“It is a tremendous opportunity to help your reluctant readers of any age, not just elementary level, to feel safe in a non-judgmental environment,” Saenz says. “The students are encouraged to read and feel very happy and secure reading as they pet the dog and watch the happiness in the dog’s eyes! The child is so excited, they want to keep reading. They are willing to stay and read for as long as you will let them instead of giving up. This is vital in encouraging all students to read because without literacy, the opportunities for learning seriously diminish and become difficult for the student to be successful. This is the significance of the program: encouraging literacy to be lifelong readers no matter the current reading level of the child.”

For more information about the Read and Roll Over program, please call the Gulf Coast Humane Society at 361-225-0845 or email Mia Guerra at outreach.manager@gchscc.org.

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