Raleigh, N.C. — Whenever Cristian Garza stumbles over a word while reading, the fourth-grader can get support from his friends – Mandy the Mastiff, Zoe the Border Collie and Maddy the Chesapeake Bay Retriever.
Known as Reading Education Assistance Dogs, or R.E.A.D., the canines visit Brassfield Elementary School in Raleigh every week to help students who have trouble reading, problems with confidence or learning disabilities.
Teachers and counselors select students for the canine coaching.
“It’s a confidence thing,” said Pam Rocque, a dog-handler. “The dog is not going to say, ‘Hey, you got that word wrong,’ not going to laugh at the child, not going to make fun of them. They can stumble over words, and the dog just sits there and listens very quietly.”
Many of the students who enter the program are only able to read picture books with very few words. By the time they are finished, many of the students can read longer chapter books.
“Sometimes, I get nervous and get stuck on the word, and I can’t sound it out, so (the dog) helps me … relax more,” Cristian said.
Third-grader Emma Briskman said she used to get low grades and struggle in school.
“Now, my grades are getting better,” she said.
Students who work with the dogs are not picked on by other students, teachers said.
“It’s not that they’re being taken out (of class) because they need extra help. They’re special because they get to read to the dog,” said second-grade teacher Nancy Masteller.
The dogs carry liability insurance and go through rigorous training before they are introduced to students.