When Mary Larson read a magazine story about a program called Reading to the Dogs, she immediately placed a call to Iola-Scandinavia Elementary Principal Tees Lecy-Wojcik.
“I called Mrs. Wojcik and asked if she thought it was a good idea and she said ‘yes,'” said Larson.
The dogs, which are a part of Therapy Dogs Inc, are also a part of the Theda Care Hospice Volunteer Pet Therapy Program.
“The main focus of the program is to improve the reading skills of the kids in a situation where they do not feel intimidated or scared,” said Larson. “We are hoping to be at the school every Tuesday and Thursday. The kids really seem to like it.”
Larson, along with her dog Woody, volunteer for the program.
Bob Drake, who also volunteers with his dog Hodge, said, “I have always been very attached to my dogs and have raised many over the years. Hodge shares a special relationship with our seven grandchildren. So when I was asked by Mary Larson to bring him to the school for the reading program, I thought it sounded like a great way to get children interested in reading and gave them practice reading out loud to others.”
He added,”It’s a great way for me to give back to the students and the kids had a lot of fun.”
Second grader Breanna Hutchison couldn’t agree more: “I read a book about skeletons to Woody. He was a good listener. It was nice reading to him and I hope I get to do it again.”
While another student added: “I’m not a good reader at all. I got to read to a dog named Happy. I knew Happy wouldn’t laugh if I made a mistake.”
“My favorite part was having Woody listen to me.” said Joey Cherek, 7. “I liked showing him the pictures and petting him when he put his head on my knee.”
“The dog I read to even gave me a kiss when I was done,” a little girl said. “I think he liked my story.”
“The Reading to the Dogs program created a lot of excitement with the students as they were thrilled to see dogs in school,” said District Administrator Duane Braun. “Three trainers and their dogs joined us on Thursday to allow our students the opportunity to share their reading skills.”
“While I was asking questions from one of the trainers, I could hear a student sitting on the floor next to the dog reading him a story. The young man didn’t care about me or the trainer. He was focused on the fact that it was his turn to read to the dog,” Braun said. “What a touching sight.”
“I felt it was very beneficial, as it demonstrated the importance of the ability to be creative in our approach to providing a quality education,” he added.
“A comfy dog listening to a student read creates a great picture in your mind, doesn’t it?” Lecy-Wojcik said. “The more students read, the more they learn, so I am all for it.”
For more information, or, if anyone has a therapy dog and would like to help, call Mary Larson at 715-467-3371.