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Therapy dogs help Roanoke County elementary students learn to read

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ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – Some Roanoke County elementary school students took advantage of a unique opportunity to improve their reading skills this week. They celebrated the final day of the summer learning program by reading to therapy dogs in the classroom. 

During the visit, each student got their own one on one time with the dogs. While the kids were having fun reading their favorite stories to their new furry friends, they were also fine-tuning their reading skills. 

As the rising first, second, and third-grade students read, the dog handlers with TheraPets of the Roanoke Valley listened in as well. The handlers were able to help students out with the hard words and encourage them when they got stuck. 

Betsey Miles, a fifth-grade teacher at Herman L Horn who helped to set up the reading session, says it really helps the students to read in a relaxed and nonjudgmental setting like this.

“Some children who normally are embarrassed or don’t want to read out loud like to read to the dogs, because the dogs are nonjudgmental. It’s also just different because the children don’t normally get to read two dogs and a school setting,” she says. 

Students, like Debbie Gamble, had been practicing their reading skills for nearly two weeks during the summer learning session. 

Gamble is a rising third grader and says she was excited to share her favorite book, Dr. Seuss’ “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish,” with Chevy the golden retriever. 

“I liked getting to read to the dogs and I can get better at reading,” says Gamble. 

Daisy the goldendoodle and Munchkin, a jack russell mix, also joined the class for the day. Each student had their own personal time to read with the dogs, who are trained to be calm and relaxed, even in high-energy situations like an elementary school classroom. 

Teachers say getting to read to the dogs not only helps the students to improve their reading skills, but also gives them more confidence in their abilities. 

“As an educator, I think every teacher is excited to see children who are excited about learning,” says Miles. “Reading is so important, knowing the children are looking forward to reading with the dogs is something special.”

The visit marked the last day of this summer learning lesson, which had a special focus on reading.