Meet one of the newest teachers at Westwood Elementary School: Abby, a seven-year-old golden retriever. She’s been attending classes at the school since the fall.
You see, Abby is a therapy dog. She’s worked at nursing homes, agencies, and churches. Her mission today is to get kids reading.
Now Abby and handler Andrea Cuson visit the school every Thursday for reading groups.
“When kids read to dogs, the dogs don’t care if kids make mistakes or if they are good readers or not,” Cuson said. “It’s teaching kids to bring a positive spin to it. They can now enjoy reading.”
Abby calms them down and the reading calms Abby, who usually goes to sleep listening to the reader. That was the case when she listened to second-grader Devin Hettmansperger read from his book, titled “Treasures,” about the sun shining in the sky.
“She’s nice. I like to read to her,” Devin said.
With Abby around, students are less self-conscious about reading and may even go home and read to their own dogs, to their families, or even themselves, getting important practice to exercise their reading skills, Cuson said.
“It encourages kids and each time they have something to look forward to,” Cuson said, explaining the conditioned emotional response to reading. “Say you had to go to the doctor and all you ever got there was a shot. Well, you wouldn’t want to go. But if you went there and you got a $100 bill, that’s a lot different.”
Abby is owned by Kim and Scott Spreng of Wellington. Cuson is one of three handlers for Abby who is registered with Therapy Dogs International as a certified therapy dog.
“A therapy dog is not just for kids, it’s for teachers as well,” she said. “Dogs help you relieve stress and can start your day off right.”
That was true for Wendy David, administrative assistant to the principal. “She makes me feel better, so I know she’s doing her job,” she said.
“They all gravitate to the dog,” said Westwood principal Paul Holland. “It’s highly motivating to the students. This is giving them reading for a purpose, to help Abby calm down and fall asleep.”
Catherine Gabe can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @ReporterGabe on Twitter.
Photos by Catherine Gabe | Wellington Enterprise
Bryce Sumpter, third grade, gets a chance to walk Abby down the hallway to another classroom for reading time.