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Summer reading program going to the dogs

Summer learning is going to the dogs, but in a good way as some volunteers in West Humboldt Park are using four-legged friends to help students improve their reading.
Summer learning is going to the dogs, but in a good way as some volunteers in West Humboldt Park are using four-legged friends to help students improve their reading.

Sometimes it can be intimidating to read aloud, especially if you have trouble with a few words.

But dogs never complain or poke fun if you take a little longer to sound out a word. That's the thought behind "Sit Stay Read," a local non-profit that brings dogs into classrooms for kids to use as reading buddies.

"Dogs are a hook because they change the classroom environment," said Kate McIlvain. "Instead of it being school where there's grades and judgment, it's fun. It's exciting. They are a comfort to kids who feel anxious about reading."

At the New Life Centers of Chicagoland in West Humboldt Park, students work in small groups, then one-by-one, they read to "Stella" or "Archie."

"Dogs can hear and they may like the story," said 8-year-old Selena Ponce de Leon.

"I love dogs. I have a dog. I feel like I'm special reading with dogs," 10-year-old Marcos Garcia said.

"Sit Stay Read" offers its program free to schools and community centers where there is the most need.

"The student population is at least 90 percent low-income, 60 percent of third-graders are reading below grade level," McIlvain said. "We start at first grade so our goal is to improve literacy by the time they get to third grade."

To help make those gains, trained volunteers offer instruction and support.

"If I got messed up, I would ask them quietly, like whisper, 'I messed up something. Can you help me?' They say yes," said 7-year-old Diana Garcia. "I don't know how to read that much so I came here to read with dogs."

"Sit Stay Read" is always seeking donations and volunteers, that's dogs and their parents. The dogs don't have to be a specific breed or have any experience. The organization has its own screening and training process.

For more information and to sign up: www.sitstayread.org
Related Topics:
education dogs reading pets Chicago - Humboldt Park
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