PEARL, MS – Learning to read is fun, and at times intimidating for young children. Pearl, MS schools have found a special kind of interventionist to help ease the pressure: a therapy dog.
“Her name is Toby, and she comes with me to Pearl Lower Elementary, to the kindergarten and first grade, to help with their reading fluency,” says Beth MacBrayer, the district psychologist. “They’re not focused on being correct necessarily, but in getting a story across. They’re really enjoying telling her a story.” MacBrayer rescued the nine-year-old from the Mississippi Animal Rescue League several years ago. Two years ago, she decided to see if the dog’s easy-going manner could influence the children.
“She listens, or appears to listen, to things the teacher says, and that gives a cue to the children that’s what’s expected of them,” MacBrayer says. This year, Toby has one more responsibility: rotating through the Lower Elementary classrooms as a reading buddy for students.
MacBrayer says so far, the program has worked out great. She recommends it for other school districts as well, but they should make sure they choose a well-mannered dog that’s good with children.
The time spent with the animals also serves as a reward for good behavior. “It’s just a wonderful team building for the school, it’s just a wonderful hominess that it adds to a school district, just a positive feeling for everyone to have a dog,” MacBrayer says.
It’s too early to measure the success of dog therapy on student achievement and test scores, but from what teachers see, it seems to be a success.