Roxy is like many of the students at Island Avenue School. Full of energy, friendly, playful and attentive when it's essential for learning.
The big difference, though, between Roxy and all the students, is that Roxy is a therapy dog that visits IAS to work in the reading program, Reading to Roxy.
With tail wagging and an inquisitive nature, Roxy joins the IAS community as a “non-judgmental audience for emerging and practicing readers,” said Reading Specialist Doreen Shirley.
As soon as Roxy enters the Room #1A, the IAS reading resource room, “she gets to work,” said Shirley. “She knows, she’s very good, she’s knows she’s here to work, so once she comes into this room she knows exactly what to do. She gets down and faces the kids and she knows what to do.”
Roxy visits IAS once a week with Pat Durante. This is such a popular program that Shirley has waiting lists of children vying for a chance to read to Roxy. She often finds requests in the form of notes left on her desk.
“I find them on my desk, little scraps,” said Shirley. “Sometimes it will just say Molly and I’ll have to scramble through my census of kids, ‘OK, how many Mollys do we have, who could this be?’”
Adopted at 8 weeks old, Roxy and Durante started training classes three weeks later. She completed Puppy K, Intermediate, Canine Good Citizen, then Therapy Training.
“The trainer said that her temperament was perfect for a therapy dog,” said Durante. “In order to get certified for Pet Therapy, both the dog and handler have to pass certain criteria so the dog is able to handle unpredictable situations such as elevator rides, wheelchairs, walkers, loud noises, sudden movements etc. Roxy passed with flying colors and we started Therapy Visits at CT Hospice when she was just 2 years old.”
It was after all this training that Roxy and Durante completed certifications classes for Paws to Read. According to the web, “Paws-to-Read (program names may differ by locale) is a program to improve the literacy skills of children with the assistance of certified canine companions (certified pet therapy dogs) in a fun and relaxed environment.”
Sitting on the floor, surrounded by pillows, IAS children eagerly read chosen books to Roxy. Roxy relaxes in close proximity and after a while can be seen dozing off, comforted by the soothing voice of the children. Some of the books include Cool Dog, School Dog, By Deborah Heiligmann, Always in Trouble, By Corinne Demas and How Rocket Learned To Read, By Tad Hills.
“Roxy loves being with the kids,” said Durante. “I truly think their voices and the environment makes her just settle in and relax. She’ll react a little differently to different behaviors of the kids. If someone is a little excited she’ll lick their faces until they settle down and read. Others, who come in and just start reading, make her settle right in and lay down!”
Not only is this program fun and enjoyable, but it really works to help improve children’s reading. One requirement Shirley has is that the children promise to practice their reading between the time they choose the book and are scheduled to read to Roxy.
“When they know they’re going to read to Roxy as their audience they want to practice to sound good to her,” said Shirley. “Practice is what makes you a better reader.”
Shirley loves the program as much as the children do because she sees the positive results it has on IAS students’ reading skills.
“I know that it improves their reading, I have the raw data and I also, just by listening to them, can tell,” said Shirley.
By watching the reading program in action, though, it might just be Roxy that enjoys it the most.
“Sometimes the kids ask if she’s really listening when it looks like she’s sleeping,” said Durante. “I tell them, ‘she’s so relaxed that she thinks it’s a bedtime story!'”