“Sadie! I made something for you!” proclaimed an eager second grader at Slippery Rock Area Elementary School. The student had made a colorful greeting card to give to his reading partner.
The school has launched a new reading program for special needs students. It is something that could definitely be considered out-of-the-box thinking, or in this case, out-of-the doghouse thinking.
The star of the new reading program is a registered therapy dog named Sadie. The dog is owned and trained by elementary school parent, Sara Whitman. Sadie is a two-year-old GoldenDoodle, that visits the school twice a week to sit in a primary-age classroom while students read aloud to her. Sadie sits quietly and patiently while kindergarten, first and seconders read their decodable books to her. Ten students from Mrs. Jean Allison’s classes participate in the program, which she began with the help of Whitman. “I thought of the reading program after observing Sadie in a similar role at our Slippery Rock Library over the summer,” said Allison. After some discussion with Slippery Rock Public Library librarian, Karen Pierce, Whitman and Allison wrote up a plan and presented it to the administration and school board for consideration. The Board approved the plan during their February 26 meeting.
The program is designed to give the students extra reading practice while helping them meet personal reading goals to improve skills. Allison explained that the program was created in such a way that the eventual outcome is student improvement in reading fluency, reading comprehension, and even behavior.
“The students love it. They take their decodable books home to read and this program provides them with some extra practice,” said classroom aide, Lindsey Knott.
The students read with Sadie for five to eight minutes at a time. When their private reading time is over, the students place a sticker on their chart and are given the opportunity to give Sadie a small treat. The student then takes a laminated, paper dog bone – similar to a high school hall pass – and deliver it to the next student whose turn it is to read.
Whitman is pleased with the success of the program during its first week in existence. “The kids have been very respectful and Sadie has been fantastic, as well,” she said.
Besides the Slippery Rock Public Library and Slippery Rock Area Elementary School, Sadie also visits the Allegheny Valley School in Slippery Rock and the Longmore Academy in Mars.
Pre and post assessments are conducted by Allison as part of the reading program to determine outcomes relative to the students’ reading. Data from the results of the post assessments will be gathered and tabulated at the end of the school year in May.