Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Dog Helps Kingsland Readers Relax, Build Their confidenceA FURRY TUTOR; the Golden Retriever and His Owner Listen While Students Work through Books

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Dog Helps Kingsland Readers Relax, Build Their confidenceA FURRY TUTOR; the Golden Retriever and His Owner Listen While Students Work through Books

Article excerpt

Byline: GORDON JACKSON

KINGSLAND - Once a week, Brice Salinas reads aloud to a new friend who will never have the ability to understand more than a few words he says.

Despite the communication barrier, Brice, 7, says he is the envy of his first-grade classmates at Matilda Harris Elementary School in Kingsland when he reads to his friend Derek - an 8-year-old golden retriever.

Brice and Derek meet in a virtually empty classroom containing nothing but a box of books, two brightly colored bean bag chairs and a thick pillow on the floor. The session begins after Brice thumbs through a box of books for an appropriate selection and takes a seat in one of the chairs next to Derek's owner, Angela Kubasa.

As Brice begins reading aloud, Derek snuggles against his leg, looking intently as if he understands what is being said. About halfway through the first book, Kubasa corrects Brice when he mispronounces a word and encourages him to read "loud and proud."

After reading two books in about 15 minutes, Kubasa praises Brice for the improvement he's made in his reading skills during the past month.

"Well done," she said. "You've done fantastic."

Brice and other children struggling to learn to read have been participating in the program, sponsored by Therapy Dogs International, since it began at the school in January, Kubasa said.

Children find it easier and less intimidating to read to a dog, she said.

"Some kids have a fear of getting it wrong," she said. "It helps improve their self-esteem."

Kubasa said she could barely hear Brice speak when he first entered the program a month ago. Now, he is reading with more confidence with each session and is catching up with his classmates.

Roselind Tosach, the school's assistant principal, said there was "no hesitation" when Kubasa volunteered to create the program at no charge to the school.

"Sometimes you have to think out of the box," she said. "We carefully chose the children who needed some self-confidence. The children feel it's a privilege."

Some children, even those not enrolled in the program, are now reading to their own dogs at home, she said. …

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