"Reading With Sophie" is a new program for Butler Elementary School's BLAST students.
Students in Butler's Learning After School Time program spend time every Tuesday reading to Sophie, a 6-year-old cocker spaniel. The therapy dog sits while students read books to her, helping the students develop their skills and an appreciation for reading.
"It's so kids have a love for reading, not just as something they have to do, but something they want to do," Norma Adson, Sophie's owner, said.
Adson, a retired Fort Dodge Community School District secretary, said she always wanted to do something with Sophie after retiring.
"I saw this program several years ago on the Internet, and they had one in Chicago. I thought, I'd really like to do that," she said. "I thought, that's something I'm going to do."
The program was originally developed in Salt Lake City in 2000.
"They wanted to see if students that have a hard time reading out loud, or don't like to read out loud in front of a classroom, how they would do reading one-on-one with a dog," she said. "Sometimes kids can be pretty judgmental in classrooms. The study really showed that after three years' time, the kids improved their reading skills by just sitting and reading with the dog."
Adson approached BLAST Coordinator Sherri Schill last year with the idea of doing the program at Butler Elementary.
"Norma had this ingenious idea that's added another dimension to our BLAST reading program," Schill said. "We've been doing large group reading with certified teachers, small group reading with foster grandparents, and tutoring. Norma's Reading With Sophie idea has added even more excitement and enthusiasm for reading."
Sophie has had all her vaccinations, and has completed obedience classes with the Fort Dodge Kennel Club and received a Canine Good Citizens Award from the American Kennel Club, Adson said.
"It says she's a nice dog, and I can use her for this," she said. "I'm planning on taking her to the nursing homes also. She's just a little friendly dog I thought kids would like."
The idea was approved by the Fort Dodge Community School District board, and the program started in December. It is now in its sixth week.
"Now every kid here wants to read with Sophie," Adson said.
Schill said Reading With Sophie has greatly helped the students in BLAST.
"The kids adore it, because kids love animals. And they love to talk about their pets. It ties something they love, pets, to reading," she said. "It's very creative."
Many activities in the BLAST program are tied to improving reading skills, Schill said.
"Reading is a big part of BLAST, and we're working on reading every single day," she said.
The first student to participate in the program was Sophie Weydert, 9. Weydert said she enjoys reading with Sophie, and said it's helped her as a reader.
"I love reading," she said. "I've got a dog, and I've been reading to it in my room and everything."
A flyer was distributed for the program before it started, creating some misunderstandings for Weydert, Adson said.
"This Sophie saw it and thought people were going to be reading with her," Adson said. "So Sherri thought she'd be a good one to read with Sophie."
According to Adson, a parent approached her about the impact the program was having on the student.
"Her mom said to me, 'I went into her room. She was sitting in her bean bag chair, reading her book out loud.' She looked at me and said, 'She's never done that before,'" Adson said. "And it kind of made me feel good."
Adson said the kids in BLAST love Sophie and that Sophie enjoys the attention she receives.
"Everybody's fighting over getting to read with Sophie," she said. "We did four kids an hour. We sit one on one, and Sophie sits with us, and they read to her. Sophie sits and she's nonjudgmental."
BLAST will also have its annual Flashlight Reading Night at Butler Elementary, in cooperation with the Fort Dodge Noon Kiwanis, at 5 p.m. on Jan. 26.
Contact Brandon L. Summers at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org