Students from Coffeen Elementary School made a special trip to the Montgomery County Animal Control Facility on Friday, afternoon, Sept. 27.
The students were participants in the school's Reading to the Rescue program and spent the afternoon reading to the cats and dogs temporarily housed at the Hillsboro-based rescue center.
This is the fifth year for the program, which was started locally by Lauren Fuller, speech therapist at TeamWork Rehab at Hillsboro Area Hospital and Francine Luckett, former principal at Coffeen Elementary School.
The reading initiative is sponsored by Imagine Hillsboro's Education Committee. Fuller, who has been an active member on the Imagine Hillsboro committee since it's early days, was inspired by a similar reading program in Missouri.
While the research-based program is open to children of all reading levels, in essence Reading to the Rescue is geared towards improving the skills of struggling readers who may not like to read to their peers or teachers.
Research has found that children tend to be more comfortable around dogs and cats and that this lack of perceived judgement allows the children to read more fluently to the animals than when they are asked to read aloud to their teachers or peers.
This is especially true for children with speech impediments or reading disorders such as dyslexia.
The program is also beneficial to the animals living at the local shelter. The young visitors give much needed attention to the rescued animals which helps to socialize them.
These socialization skills make the animals more adoptable and help to ensure the success of future adoptions.
In addition to the students' company, the dogs receive nylabones during each visit.
The bones help soothe the dogs and keep them from barking in excitement.
While easily overlooked, keeping the animals calm is an important element of the program as some student visitors may have sensory issues or may not have had much outside exposure to dogs - which could trigger anxiety and fear in the student readers.
The students at Coffeen Elementary visit the shelter twice a month. The program works not only as a reading initiative but as a motivator for good behavior. This year, students will be selected to participate in the popular program as a behavioral reward. While the program began in Coffeen's school, the education committee has expanded the initiative to include the students at Beckemeyer Elementary as well.
Imagine Hillsboro's Education Committee is able to fund programs like Reading to the Rescue through fundraisers like their upcoming Spooktacular Scramble. The Halloween-themed golf tournament will be held at Hillsboro Country Club on Saturday, Oct. 26. Information on the tournament and the education committee may be found online at www.imagine-hillsboro.com or on Imagine Hillsboro's facebook page.