WASHINGTON — Savannah Musicant loves dogs. The Stewart Elementary second-grader has three at home- “a small dog, a medium dog and a big dog” so when the opportunity came up to read books to dogs during class, she was more than ready and even more than willing.
Musicant was just one of 19 students in Johannah Neff’s class that turned out to the PAWS and More Animal Shelter, located at 1004 W Madison Street in Washington on Monday to participate in the reading program.
Neff said the concept was started by fellow second grade teacher Liz Goodwin who was looking for a way to get students motivated to read.
After sharing her success with the rest of the staff, other teachers have signed up to bring students as well. What started as field trip just for her class has now snowballed into a program that shelter director Amber Talbot said has been so successful, the animals have not gone a single week in 2020 without having students visit them.
Goodwin said all five second-grade classes at Stewart, about 120 kids, have participated in the program. A schedule is planned out for the rest of the school year and will pick up again in August.
The collaboration has been great for both entities, she said because it has allowed students to feel more comfortable with reading as well as animals getting attention.
“I love the project and I think some of the animals have been adopted from this,” she said. “I just think it’s great for the kids to get out in the community.”
Neff said the visit Monday was the second time she brought her students and plans to bring them once a month for the rest of the school year.
After students interacted with the animals the first time, she said, there was a big change in behavior. They were motivated to listen better in class to have the opportunity to return to the shelter and also experienced boosts in confidence.
“Some of their assessments are reading assessments so with them reading out loud, that’s a big transition for second-graders. Not only that but it’s a time where they go from reading out loud to reading in their head so it’s really good practice not only for their fluency but with reading to an animal that is listening. It holds them accountable,” she said.
One of those readers was Paige Woline, who spent some time reading to a dog named Gwen. Woline said she is more of a cat person, she has one at home, but enjoyed getting to spend time with the dogs even if they are a little louder and rowdier than cats.
Musicant, sitting on the other side of her patiently read her book to a small dog, Patches. Getting to read to the animals was not only fun for her, but a great way to boost their spirits also, she said.
“You get to see the animals and be nice to them and it makes them happy,” she said.
Talbot said she sees a difference in the animals after the students read to them. They are receptive to their calm demeanor and having the students arrive helps provide a more positive experience for them while they wait to be adopted.
“It’s heartwarming. It’s such good enrichment for them and that has always been our focus here. We strive to always increase our enrichment for the animals and this is just another way to provide exceptional care,” she said.
On Monday, nine dogs and 60 cats had the attention of 19 excited second-graders. Programs that benefit both youth and animals is something the shelter already has but being able to add one more to the list is a plus.
“We do youth education with animal awareness but this is a whole new way to do it,” she said. “It’s great for the kids and the animals. It’s a win-win because these children need confidence and practice and what better way to connect with an animal than reading?”
The partnership between the school and shelter is expected to continue for the rest of the school year and the upcoming school year as well. Having community members, especially within the education system, show support creates a strong bond between the two organizations and is a great benefit for Washington, she said.
“It’s just a lot of things to consider for a school to jump on board with a program like this but we’re fortunate to have good community support and partners that we can do this with. It’s pretty powerful,” she said.
Classes from other schools and school districts are encouraged to participate as well, Talbot said. For more information the shelter can be reached at: 319-653-6713.