Kaiser, a 120-pound Alaskan Malamute, is the newest instructional aide at Blanco Elementary. Instructional aide, you may ask? Yes, and according to Donna Dishman, the dog’s owner, many people have shown progress from relationships with pets and animals.
“Our mission is to promote the enrichment of the human animal bond with children, the terminally ill, and the elderly,” according to the literature of Dishman’s non-profit organization, Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS).
One program aimed at improving certain populations of children is the “Canine Classmates” program.
According to Dishman, “Some children have trouble reading for a variety of reasons. Children are intimidated by reading aloud in a group. They frequently suffer from lower self-esteem, and view reading as a chore. Children may be selfconscious, or may have a language difficulty. The barriers quickly are removed when the children read to a dog. Learning to read is less about intellectual limitations than about overcoming fears.”
The targeted age group for Canine Classmates is 5—9. At Blanco Elementary, eighteen students spend 20 minutes of one-on-one time, every two weeks, reading to Kaiser. Dishman supervises the visits and works to see that all goes well.
According to elementary reading specialist Shawn Kipp, Kaiser’s influence has been of value. “Kaiser has been a welcomed addition to our campus. The students see him as a true classmate—a classmate they can trust and with whom they can be themselves.”
“It’s amazing to watch these students, the ones that hate to read, become so enthusiastic. A real measure of success is when they start bringing their own books from home or their classroom to read to Kaiser.”
“We can see the kids relaxing and forgetting their fears, because Kaiser, unlike adults or their peers, is an attentive listener who will not judge them.”
Kipp also adds this remarkable story, “We had one boy who we really had a hard time with getting to read aloud. He read one time with Kaiser, and really opened up. In fact, when he left the room with Kaiser, he was telling the other kids, ‘Hey, read this book to him! He likes it.’”
New elementary principal Sue Ann Reininger knew of Dishman and her program from when Reininger worked in Comal ISD. “Last year Kaiser came to the elementary school where I worked as an assistant principal. They worked with several students who were either below grade level in reading, lacked confidence in their reading, or had behavior concerns. By the end of the year they had 32 students working with Kaiser one day a week every other week.”
“Teachers documented that all children identified showed significant reading and/or attitude changes. Personally I am aware of one 5th grade student who was reading on 2nd grade level at the beginning of the school year. He worked with Kaiser and, along with other interventions, was able to pass the 5th grade reading TAKS.”
“I hope to have these same results come about here for our students at Blanco Elementary this year. The idea behind Canine Classmates is that students practice reading aloud to the dog that is interested in the stories and is non-judgmental.”
“The goal of the program is to promote reading and positive self-esteem in the children. Canine Classmates is a non-profit organization, and there is no charge for this service. We are grateful for the time they spend with our children.”