Tipper sure seemed to be paying close attention as 8-year-old Kayla Brackett read to her in rhyme. The book was aptly named Dog Poems, and the long-haired dachshund sat with Kayla in a comfortable corner in her master's third-grade classroom at Oakstead Elementary School. And while it seemed Tipper loved the stories, it was really the Cheerios that won her over. Kayla kept the treats hidden in her tightly clenched fist underneath the book.
Whether Tipper would stay on the pint-size couch depended on how Kayla handled the treats. Don't dole them out all at once or she'll likely hop down and start scrounging around for more on the floor.
Kayla was one of 14 students in Cindy Goldsworthy's third-grade classroom awarded the opportunity to read to Tipper for meeting their monthly literacy goals; read three books on their reading level and pass an accompanying Reading Counts quiz.
"I read because I like animals and I wanted to see Tipper," Kayla said when her turn was over.
That's the point — the incentive that Goldsworthy came up with after learning about a reading program in Colorado that saw struggling students' literacy skills soar when they read out loud to registered therapy dogs.
"As a school we're trying to get kids as excited about reading as we can," Goldsworthy said. "I thought, 'I've got a therapy dog at home. Let's see what we can do.' "
"The kids seemed to buy into the idea," she said, noting that all but four of 18 students met their reading goals this month.
"That's pretty impressive," said Susan Hoffacker, Oakstead's media specialist.
"I'm real pleased with the turnout," Goldsworthy said. "Hopefully it will catch on and they'll continue to read all year."
Canines in the classroom is a new kind of movement across the country.
It's no secret that children who enjoy reading develop better literacy skills than those who view reading as a chore. No doubt, visits from trained therapy dogs like Tipper can make reading time a more enjoyable venture.
Students who are self-conscious reading in front of classmates are often more comfortable reading to the dogs. That can be a real confidence builder. Dogs, it turns out, don't correct; don't judge like people might.
Tipper has already racked up lots of hours visiting with the folks at the Baldomero Lopez Veterans' Nursing Home in Land O'Lakes and seemed to enjoy her time spent with students at school.
"She likes dog books, of course," said Reese German, 9, after she finished her reading stint with Tipper. "It was very fun and I'm very excited that hopefully we'll be able to do it again. And even though she didn't sit with me the whole time she was very sweet."