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Hounds help students build reading confidence

BY GENEVIEVE POSTLETHWAIT gpostlethwait@paducahsun.com

Summer reading has "gone to the dogs" at Farley Elementary, but in this case that's a wonderful thing.

Thursday morning, Farley's Summer Adventures Program students walked into the school gym excited and ready, not for typical gym activities like basketball or volleyball, but for reading.

It was their audience that made this summer reading session special. Rather than reading quietly to themselves with their lips silently moving, or fighting the nerves that sometimes come with reading in front of peers, the students read to dogs. Cute, tail-wagging, face-licking dogs.

"We've always had reading in our summer programs, because even 20 minutes of reading a day makes a difference," said Farley Elementary Family Resource Coordinator Marianna Romero. "But just knowing the dogs are coming on Thursdays has really increased their enthusiasm for reading."

Reading programs like Farley's Literary Hounds have been popping up in schools and libraries across the country, many with equally clever names like "See Spot Listen" in Oregon, "Sit Stay and Read" in Illinois, and 'Paws to Read' in California, but Farley's is the first program of its kind in the area. It's also one of the first of its kind to include an audience of adoptable, pet-in-training dogs. The dogs typically used in these reading programs tend to be pets or therapy dogs.

All seven of the dogs at Thursday's Literary Hounds reading session - the last session for the summer - were from the McCracken County Humane Society. Thanks to the Literary Hounds program, all seven of the dogs are now also well-socialized, kid-friendly and very adoptable.

Humane society staff member Ken Kaletch said that since the program began this summer, they've found homes for several of the "literary hounds."

"I adopted out three just this last Saturday." Kaletch said. "I thought this was a real good idea. They always stress that the dogs need to socialize with each other, but other dogs aren't the ones that's coming to adopt them. It's people, and oftentimes parents with kids. This has helped get the dogs used to being around kids."

It took months of planning and paperwork by Farley's Family Resource Center and staff, Retired Seniors Volunteer Program of Paducah members (RSVP) and McCracken County Humane Society staff to make the Literary Hounds program happen. The dogs had to have obedience training. The RSVP volunteers had to undergo background checks and FERPA training to serve as dog handlers to the hounds and mentors to the students. The school had to obtain special liability insurance. The process began in January.

"It has absolutely been worth all the red tape," Romero said. "Students lose one to three months of learning in the summer if they do nothing, so we made the decision that we didn't want that summer slide to happen to our students. Adding the dogs to our reading plan has really made an even bigger difference."

Romero and several RSVP volunteers commented on the remarkable boost to students' confidence in their reading. By the last day of the program, the students' voices echoed around the gym, reading with gusto excerpts from The Jungle Book and The Berenstain Bears to eager, floppy ears, with the occasional laughing shout of "Ha! He slobbered on my glasses!" or "BACON! You want bacon?" when the dogs got a little excited about reading.

"We hope to continue Literary Hounds during our after school program during the school year as well. That's what we're working toward," Romero said.

For more information about the adoptable hounds, visit the humane society at 4000 Coleman Road in Paducah, or call (270) 443-5923.

Contact Genevieve Postlethwait, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or at gpostlethwait@paducahsun.com.

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