‘PAWS’ Program Creates Confident Readers With Help From Shelter Dogs

Students in Bryan’s Arrow Academy practiced their reading skills by reading aloud to Bryan Animal Center dogs.

By Ashley Green, Texas A&M University College of Education and Human Development

When it comes to helping young students become confident readers, our four-legged friends may be the key. That is the theory behind PAWS (Physical Activity With Shelters) for Reading.

Dr. Meagan Shipley, clinical assistant professor of health education, has long had a passion for animal rescue. Shortly after she was hired at Texas A&M, Dr. Shipley began researching ways to combine shelter dogs with reading. She contacted Bryan Animal Center and began working out the logistics and securing the pilot program at Arrow Academy.

“In the end, Arrow wants to have good teachers. The hope is that, if the school has exposure and the students are acknowledged for who they are and the positive traits they hold, our students will be inclined to teach there,” explained Dr. Shipley.

“It was an opportunity to broaden my students’ experiences by exposing them to positive college role models. It is through a variety of experiences that we can see a variety of possibilities for our future,” added Becky Tucker, principal at Arrow Academy.

The students had to apply to participate in the program. They were asked to write persuasive papers proving why they would be a good fit and also had to be recommended by their teachers.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to reinforce the importance of quality work and learning. The children knew they were chosen because of their ability to behave and to learn. It was quite an honor and privilege. All too often, our attention is given to the students who do not demonstrate those behaviors. We loved the positive experience,” explained Tucker.

Over the course of several weeks, students at Arrow participated in the program for one hour each week. The students were broken up into three groups and participated in three stations.

Station one involves students reading to the dogs. “They are focusing on developing their reading comprehension and their confidence in how they feel about reading.”

Research has proven that reading comprehension improves as physical activity increases, so station two focuses on physical activity. Teacher preparation candidates from the Department of Health and Kinesiology are tasked with developing lesson plans to get the children up and moving.

Station three combines an arts and crafts activity with learning about proper care of pets and how to act around certain pets. “We also talked about bullying and how certain breeds are bullied against. We tied that back to the classroom and encouraged participants not to bully others at school.”

While the final analysis from the pilot program is not complete, Dr. Shipley feels like the program accomplished one of her main goals – getting students excited about reading.

“Reading can be really fun if students get to read books they like and if they have an audience to read to that is non-judgmental and non-intimidating. That’s what this program does.”

Dr. Shipley’s goal is to expand the program to all students at Arrow Academy and, if successful, duplicate the program at other schools in the Brazos Valley. She is also considering adding a fourth station where students can plan an adoption event at the school while involving their families and the community to give more back to the shelter.

“This program has made these students feel like they’re part of something. The students need that emotional connection, and for a lot of them this is something they look forward to every week. I would love to expand on that.”

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This story by Ashley Green originally appeared on Transform Lives.


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