Local Dog Helps Kids Learn to Read

For some kids, reading isn’t very fun. In fact, it can be considered a chore, or even a bore. But what if they had something to make it more fun? Like a dog? That’s what Mattapoisett resident Jenna Gifford is proposing to the Mattapoisett Library.

Reading PAWS is a brand new program that’s being introduced to the library, where Gifford and her two-year-old Goldendoodle named Sadie will help Center School students improve their reading skills. Each week, the students will take turns reading to the dog.

“Said is a very lovable dog,” said Gifford. “She has a good personality and people love her.”

Gifford is a 2005 graduate of Bishop Stang High School and a lifelong Mattapoisett resident. She received both her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and her Master’s Degree in Literacy from Rhode Island’s Roger Williams University.

“I’ve always had an interest in teaching reading,” Gifford said. “I heard about using a dog for reading therapy and I thought that I should give it a try.”

But they don’t let just any dog into public buildings. To ensure Sadie was competent enough to be brought in public, she and Jenna had to undergo eight months of training. From basic commands like “sit” and “stay” to more complex lessons on how to interact with people, the pooch had to learn it all.

Sadie passed all of her tests with flying colors and was even awarded a K9 Good Citizenship Award.

After Sadie was certified, Jenna approached Linda Burke, the Children’s Librarian at the Mattapoisett Library to see if they could start the Reading PAWS program. Burke was thrilled with the idea, Gifford said. The two ladies sent flyers home with Center School third graders to inform parents about the program.

“Throughout my career, I’ve noticed that a lot of kids don’t think reaching is fun,” Gifford said. “I want them to see that reading can be fun if you make it fun. “

So how could a dog possibly help children learn how to read?

“There has been a lot of research conducted showing that having a dog around creates a less-stress environment for students,” Gifford said. “When they are less stressed, they will read better and have more confidence. I want them to build good self-esteem and confidence with their reading.”

Each week on Tuesday evening at 6:30 pm, the group will meet at the library. Jenna will introduce a new book each week and read to the students with Sadie seated right beside her.  Jenna will then ask the students basic comprehension questions about the story before the kids each get a chance to read to Sadie directly.

“My favorite part about teaching is that it’s a very rewarding job,” said Gifford. “When I go teach, it’s a very good feeling. It makes you feel like you have a purpose and you are making a difference in children’s lives. You’re pretty much helping to shape the future.”

For more information on the Reading PAWS program, contact the Mattapoisett Library at 508-758-4171.

By Katy Fitzpatrick

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