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Cedar Grove Students Gain Confidence by Reading to Dogs

November 18, 2013
Source: Courier-Journal, KY

When 8-year-old Emily Mann reads a passage from a book correctly, she gets to pet Kasey, a border collie, and feed her a treat. “Kasey!” Emily exclaims while the dog chows down on the treat and basks in Emily’s affection.

Emily, a second-grader at Cedar Grove Elementary School [in Shepherdsville, Kentucky], is one of about a dozen students with special needs at the school who gain confidence in their reading skills by reading to dogs like Kasey.

The program started last month after a student’s grandmother offered to bring dogs she trains in to be a receptive — and furry — audience to the student readers.

“When they read to me, it’s a sense of, ‘I don’t want to mess up,’ ” special needs teacher Leah Smith said. “With the dogs, there’s no pressure.”

Dog trainer Terry McGauley approached the school in September about using some of the dogs she trains to help improve special needs students’ reading skills.

She began using her tracking dogs to improve her granddaughter’s hand-eye coordination four years ago and has been impressed with how much learning with the dogs has helped her granddaughter develop.

McGauley said her granddaughter’s vocabulary has doubled in recent years by doing reading exercises with the dogs. “I started to wonder what these dogs can do for other children,” said McGauley, who has trained dogs for more than 40 years.

McGauley brings Kasey; Maggie, an 8-year-old mix; and Cork, a 4-year-old beagle; to Cedar Grove’s sensory room every Monday so students can work on their reading and sensory skills.

Smith said her students will often learn what words look like in the classroom, but have trouble remembering what they look like in different settings. For example, a student could know how to read a word in class, but may not recognize it if they see it in the hallway.

Petting the dogs introduces the students to new sensations and has helped them better remember words and pictures, Smith said. “It builds a diversity of what they know and how they know it,” she said.

Students were [wary] of reading to the dogs at first, but quickly warmed up to them, Smith said.

On a recent Monday at the school, Nathan Cheatham, 6, read with confidence as he sat beside Maggie and recited what was in the book he held. “You’re nice,” he later told Maggie.

The dogs’ attention goes a long way with students’ confidence in and outside of the classroom, said Danita Schulz, preschool instructional assistant at Cedar Grove.

“It’s something that makes them feel special,” she said.

COVER PHOTO CAPTION: Dog trainer Terry McGauley watches as Emily Mann, 8, pets Maggie following a reading exercise at Cedar Grove Elementary School.

Note: The online story includes photos and a video without captions. (1:34 mins.)

Link: Go to website for News Source

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