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January 11, 2019

Clarke K-8 Students Welcome Canine Reading Buddy, Sunny


January 11, 2019—Students in Clarke’s K-8 Program, co-located at Leeds Elementary School, have been enjoying a very special visitor this school year. Sunny, a three-year-old Labrador Retriever, has been coming to see the students in their classrooms as a “reading buddy.” A certified Bright Spot therapy dog, Sunny is trained to do an important job: She visits classrooms and curls up on the floor while children take turns reading her stories.

Bright Spot therapy dogs are dispatched to locations around Massachusetts, connecting with home-bound individuals, veterans, patients in hospice care and local students, who have a chance to practice their reading skills in a fun, relaxed setting. These reading buddies help create a friendly, non-threatening atmosphere for school-age children as they practice reading aloud. While reading aloud in a traditional classroom setting can feel daunting for some school-age children, especially those struggling with reading, an affectionate dog can make a big difference.

Reading aloud is an effective and straightforward way to accelerate literacy development. It helps to improve vocabulary and fluency, by modeling usage among classroom peers. It also improves class participation and allows students to engage with one another. And some of the most reluctant young readers are eager to read to a canine visitor. This helps foster confidence in their reading skills and a greater interest in books.

Sunny travels with her owner, and Bright Spot volunteer, Gail. Sunny and Gail make up a therapy dog team, and Gail teaches the children about Sunny’s job before their reading sessions. They learn that Sunny has a designated “work” blanket, and when Gail lays it down on the floor, Sunny knows her job has begun. She dutifully takes her place and awaits her stories. The student readers sit on the floor next to Sunny, reading and showing Sunny pictures from their books. Classmates watch and listen, enjoying a powerful exercise in literacy, disguised as soothing down-time with a friendly dog and her kind owner.

Sunny and Gail continue to visit classrooms in Clarke’s K-8 Program, and the students eagerly await their next session with their reading buddy. See pictures and a video clip of Sunny at work below, or use these links: photo album; video clip. And to learn more about Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, visit bright-spot.org.

Clarke Northampton: Sunny the Dog Visits as Reading Buddy