SUMMIT, NJ - What could be better than waxing eloquent to an audience that stares adoringly at you, hangs on your every word and doesn’t have a mean word to say? Lincoln-Hubbard Elementary School’s Resource Room teacher Allison Ahearn had a "light bulb moment" when she realized that some of her hesitant readers could benefit from reading aloud to just such an audience.
Ahearn was awarded an Summit Educational Foundation grant that brought "Tail Waggin’ Tutors" to Lincoln-Hubbard. "Tail Waggin’ Tutors" is the reading program branch of Therapy Dogs International (TDI), a volunteer organization that brings therapy dogs and their handlers into nursing homes, schools, and other institutions where the dogs can work their magic. Once every month during the 2014-15 school year, Lyla, a TDI poodle, visits Lincoln-Hubbard and lies patiently next to new friends as they read aloud to her.
The philosophy behind "Tail Waggin’ Tutors" is that tentative readers will garner positive read-aloud experiences when all threat of being judged is removed. In addition, the students can relax by petting the dog, and thus associate reading with something pleasant, while building confidence as he or she practices reading.
Ahearn agrees, having seen the program in action last month. "It was a great opportunity to see the students and Lyla interact. They were excited to read to her, and show off their skills. You could see them smile and just relax while reading aloud when Lyla sat next to them. The program, 'Tail Waggin’ Tutors', is a great way for the students to become comfortable reading and gain self esteem."
Lyla’s presence is already creating a buzz amongst the Lincoln-Hubbard students who have met her. First grader Hunter Irwin summed it up best with his enthusiasm and plans for reading to the poodle. "It was good to read to Lyla. She was a very soft and cute dog. She made me happy because she was smiling. Next time, I want to read 'Fly Guy' to Lyla."
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