Students reading to dogs

Elkhart sixth grade students Evan Martinez and Caden Kerr read “A Fine, Fine School” to Niko at the BARC dog park.

Elkhart Middle School students took a deliberate pause from their studies to play and read to rescue animals at BARC, the Anderson County Humane Society on Friday. One group played with cats while another group walked dogs to Upper Lake before sitting down to read picture books to their new fur friends.

The idea for the project arose when sixth grade students in Mandy Walker’s class recently read a short story titled “Reading Buddies.” It described a project in 1989 that helped calm rescue animals and helped students improve their reading skills.

After sixth grade students expressed an interest in doing a similar project, Walker and other educators selected roughly 15 participants from the sixth, seventh and eighth grades and invited them to participate.

Librarian Angela Mohn described the participants as good students who “work hard to have good grades.”

Mohn said the students were selected for the project to build their confidence in reading while “having a calming effect on the animals.”

The visit benefitted both the animals and the students. Sixth grade student Kara Vaughn played with cats and read to them.

“The cats were like, looking at me,” Vaugh said. “They were very engaged.” .

Sixth grade students Evan Martinez and Caden Kerr said they enjoyed reading “A Fine, Fine School” to Niko at the BARC dog park. Niko calmed down as they took turns reading the books. 

Elkhart Superintendent Dr. Lamont Smith said the activity helps both animals and the students.

“Our kids having a heart to want to connect with the animals is remarkable,” Smith said. “The pups have feelings, too.”

Reading to an animal helps students practice their literacy skills without being judged or laughed at when they mispronounce words.

“It takes away the anxiety of someone potentially correcting them,” Smith said. “At the same time it helps them along the way as they build their phonemic awareness as well as their comprehension skills, too. It really builds the literacy process for our kids; we’re proud of our staff for creating this opportunity.”

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