Reading with Rufus program - Fox 28: South Bend, Elkhart IN News, Weather, Sports

Reading with Rufus program


We've all heard about the therapeutic benefits of pets. They lift our spirits, and lower anxiety and blood pressure.

But now a South Bend school is using dogs in the classroom -- to help kids struggling with reading. I went in as a volunteer with my dog Kirby, but couldn't help but also come out with quite a story.

There's a saying, "Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend." But in Rosie Plunkett's class at Tarkington Elementary, you don't have to chose between the two.

"I love to read and I don't want anybody to not be able to read," said teacher Rosie Plunkett.

This year she created a program called, "Reading with Rufus", pairing up man's best friend with 1st and 2nd grade struggling readers.

"You know, it's non-threatening. They don't feel like the dogs are going to correct them or they can make a mistake," said Plunkett.

Volunteers come in once a week with a dog for each of the 10 students... and the students read to them.

"It's great. It's fun," said student Gade Safeukui.

"I feel really, really excited," said student Lexi Lawwill.

"Those kids run in and are so excited," said volunteer Linda Candler. "They get their bags, sit down, they are ready to read. I love that. I love that we're able to make a difference."

"I really didn't have any idea what it would look like, who, what , how it would turn out, but the kids love it and that's exactly what I wanted," said Plunkett.

Seven-year-old Emma Shaul picked this "proud mom's dog", Kirby and says she looks forward to this day all week long.

"I just like reading with the dogs, like sounding out words and reading," said student Emma Shaul.

"I used to hate reading. Now I love reading," said Lawwill.

"She challenges us like - they get harder and harder and we get them a lot," said student Julianna Dunkleberger.

"It has been highly successful," said Principal Melinda Ehmer.

Principal Melinda Ehmer says she took a chance on the "Reading with Rufus" program due to Plunkett's enthusiasm and couldn't be happier with the results.

"Since the dogs have come, we've seen motivation increased. We see a great deal of energy and excitement," said Ehmer. "The kids want to read. They want to practice their book every day for their dog."

Something administrators didn't expect? They knew there would be a bond between the dogs and the kids... But they didn't anticipate how much of a bond would well up between the kids and the volunteers.

"The first week we had kids that had a hard time reading anything. And in a couple weeks, they could breeze through a book, no problem," said volunteer Valerie Lowell.

"For the animals and for these kids. They are fabulous," said volunteer Kathy Vicsik. "They are having a wonderful time learning. I've watched some of these kids come in and leave already because they've gotten so good at reading."

Speaking of becoming so "good at reading"...

The principal told us they are seeing a definite increase in test scores and assessments. And they would like to expand the program.

They want to have more volunteers and dogs come in and they are even talking about expanding the program to other schools.

Click here if would like more information.


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