For some students, reading out loud can be woof – or rather rough.
But thanks to the dogs of the Tail Waggin’ Tutors, a division of Therapy Dogs International that brings four-legged friends to schools to help struggling readers, students throughout EPISD are finding it easier to embrace their love of literacy.
The dogs, which range in age and sizes but provide the same encouragement and peace of mind to all students, make monthly visits to elementary, middle and even high schools in EPISD. Some dogs even visit students at UTEP and Texas Tech.
Last week, a mastiff named Zelda and a border collie named Cali visited students at Clendenin Elementary School. The program has been successful there for the past three years.
“I like that I can read to someone that pays attention and doesn’t say what mistakes I made,” said fourth-grader Ashely Ruiz, who has been working with Zelda for three years.
Jackie Nunez, a handler for Tail Waggin’ Tutors, said the dogs provide judgement-free reinforcement to students who can sometimes be afraid to read out loud in front of their peers. This type of love and care help struggling readers overcome their fears and improve their skills.
The dogs are friendly and calming, but don’t let that fool you. Deep down, they are professionals at what they do.
Handler Michelle Watson said dogs must go through a rigorous certification process before they are deployed to an assignment. Therapy dogs must show that they are comfortable around wheelchairs and crowds, and they train to behave and be polite around other dogs and people.
Clendenin Teacher Luisa Mendiola took her class to the library after eagerly hearing that their furry friends were in the building.
“Oh, the kids love coming to see the dogs and they love to read to them,” Mendiola said. “I have noticed how relaxing it can be, and it helps high energy students focus when they read.”
The school librarian Gayle Williams has noticed the impact the dogs have had on students as well. Williams set up many books of different reading levels near the dogs, and saw how the students shuffled through them, choosing books almost immediately and taking turns with the dogs.
Mrs. Williams says that students are so inspired by these experiences that they go home and read to their own pets.
Yadirah Soliz, a fourth-grader at Clendenin, has tried to read to her dog but has been unsuccessful so far.
“She’s too crazy,” Yadirah said. “She’s not like these dogs. These dogs behave and let me read to them.”