Brutus and Nigel Lend an Ear to Assist Students with Reading Skills at Troy Heritage Trail Elementary School
On a recent Wednesday, a 2nd-grade student in Mrs. Lundy's class at Troy Heritage Trail Elementary School in Joliet, Illinois, sits on a carpet softly reading "Clifford, the Big Red Dog" to Nigel's ear and gently petting his head. The story doesn't matter as much as Nigel's comforting presence and the ability to "listen" without judgment and interruptions.
LCC Kare 9® Military Ministry Dog Brutus (LCC Squad) with his veteran handler Gene Weisbecker (U.S. Navy) and Nigel (LCC Staff) with his veteran handler Jim Morrison (U.S. Army) have been visiting the school monthly for over two years to help 1st and 2nd-grade students with their reading skills.
Teacher Melissa Lundy started the program four years ago when she taught first grade. She brought it to second-graders when she transferred grade levels this year. During COVID, the students read to the dogs virtually.
"I saw a huge increase in anxiety over reading in the students," says Melissa. "The biggest benefit of having the Comfort Dogs is that reluctant readers and those who struggle reading feel safe and comfortable when they are with the dogs. All their anxiety and nervousness go away. They read at their own pace, and if they make a mistake, the dogs don't know. They don't judge."
Brutus and Nigel rotate between classrooms throughout the day, and the students take turns reading and snuggling up to them. In Mrs. Russell's room, the students read hand-written notes to Brutus about their favorite parts of him visiting their classroom.
Emily wrote: "I enjoy petting Brutus because he's so fluffy and he loves hugs. When I hug him, it feels like fluffy heaven. When I read to him, it makes me feel like I really accomplished something. Brutus makes me happy!!!"
Some students shared that it almost looks like the dogs might be smiling when they are reading to them.
The dogs are a huge motivator. Melissa sees a significant improvement in the students reading developmental skills. And on the days they visit, all the students come to school. "We have perfect attendance," says Melissa.
The teachers send home pictures of the kids with the dogs, and often they are the topic of the conversation at the dinner table. The kids are eager to share their day with the comfort dogs and what they learned about them from the handlers.
Helping the students with their reading skills is the primary goal of having the comfort dogs at school, but they also help with the kids' socio-emotional learning. Those kids who don't have pets learn how to approach and interact with them and that you can get affection from an animal.
Comfort Dogs in school - something that seems so small but makes such a big difference.
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