Tennessee students to receive support from therapy dogs to boost reading confidence

A new program is being introduced in Tennessee to support students in feeling more at ease and self-assured when it comes to reading before the TCAP exams.

In order to address the problem of sixty percent of third graders potentially being held back due to their test scores, the Reading Paws program has implemented the use of therapy dogs in the classroom.

Northfield Elementary School has been incorporating a unique program for the past few years that involves the use of dogs to assist students in their reading development. According to school officials, the introduction of these furry companions has resulted in improved attendance and reading scores among the students.

Once a week, students set aside some time from their busy schedule to engage in a unique activity – reading to therapy dogs. The purpose of this activity is to provide a safe space for students to read aloud without the fear of being judged by their peers.

According to teacher Melissa Lubash, students are filled with enthusiasm when it comes to reading and they eagerly engage with their books. She mentioned, “I’m going to read this book to Lucas or General. I am going to read this book to them today.” As they actively practice reading, their faces brighten up with excitement and their overall perspective on reading has undergone a positive transformation.

The Tennessee Veterinary Medical Foundation and Therapy ARC joined forces to launch the program, recognizing the positive impact dogs can have on boosting reading confidence.

At present, a few volunteer handlers are responsible for bringing their dogs to schools, hospitals, and other organizations. Kim McIntyre, one of the handlers, mentioned that they receive numerous requests that surpass their available resources, but they make an effort to visit as many students as they can.

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“They can experience a sense of comfort and relaxation while reading to the dog, without the fear of being judged by their peers for not knowing a particular word,” McIntyre expressed. “It allows them to engage in a one-on-one reading experience with the dog.”

Thirteen new dog teams in Middle Tennessee will be trained and certified thanks to a newly awarded $12,000 grant. These teams will expand their coverage to classrooms in the Nashville area, providing additional support.

According to Donnie Headrick, a board member of the TVMF and a retired veterinarian, once people in Tennessee witness the positive effects of this program in our public schools, they will be eager to lend their support. He emphasizes that the students are not anxious but rather find the therapy animals helpful in improving their focus. This, in turn, makes it easier for them to complete tasks and enhances their reading abilities by creating a relaxed environment.

Third-grade student Nico Travis expressed that his reading skills have improved and he feels more at ease when reading after engaging in practice sessions with dogs. Nico also shared his unique strategy for the upcoming TCAP test, stating that he plans to mentally envision having a dog sitting right beside him as he tackles the exam.

“I feel really happy because I get to have a companion with me,” expressed Harper Strickland, a second-grade student. “If someone loves dogs, they can enjoy reading to a dog. It’s incredibly fun!”

Reading Paws has announced its plans to expand its services to Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Memphis this spring.

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