On Thursday, October 30, students at Benjamin Banneker Elementary worked on their reading skills with the help of several four-legged companions. Volunteers with Literacy Education Assistance Pups (L.E.A.P.) visited the school enlisting the help of over 10 trained therapy dogs, aiming to boost readers’ confidence and encourage their love of reading.
Founded in Lewes, DE by Leslie Bowers, owner of P.U.P.S. Pet Boutique, the goal of the program is to improve the literacy skills of children, and grow their enthusiasm for reading, through the assistance of therapy dog teams as literacy mentors. According to volunteer Susan Jefferson, the presence of a L.E.A.P. dog creates an inviting and motivating reading environment as L.E.A.P. dogs are nonjudgmental, comfortable, and fun.
“It is amazing to see the kids progress from the beginning of the year until the end of the year,” said Jefferson. “Even kids that are not comfortable with dogs in the beginning, begin to see them as friends.”
Jefferson admits that as a child she had trouble in school and was embarrassed about her own reading. When called upon in class to read out loud, she says she was “frightened.” Her first-hand experience of being a challenged reader is one of the reasons that Jefferson is so involved with the L.E.A.P. program today.
“I have a real heart with kids and their struggle with reading,” commented Jefferson. “I love working with the kids and I love working with the dogs.”
Jeremiah Rykard, an fifth grader at Benjamin Bannaker Elementary, has been involved with the program over the past two years and his teacher Ms. Frost states that she can see the difference. “I like reading, having fun and playing with the dogs,” said Rykard. “When I’m stuck on a word it helps me to relax by petting the dog.
Volunteer David Hickey has been involved with L.E.A.P for three years with his two dogs Miss Winston, an 11-year-old Corgi, and Miss Daisey, an 11-year-old black lab. “Every year I see an improvement in the kids,” said Hickey. “Here with the dogs they are not worried about what their peers think or what corrections they have to make. They just relax, have fun and read.”
Ms. Frost, a teacher at Benjamin Banneker Elementary, asked that her students become a part of the L.E.A.P. program two years ago when she saw the unique reading sessions taking place in other local schools. “Personally animals calm me down and I can see that they have the same effect on my kids,” said Frost. “The dogs enable my kids to calm down and focus on what they are reading. It also helps them build relationships with not only animals but the volunteers too.”
Currently, L.E.A.P. teams mentor partners with several local schools and libraries in Kent and Sussex Counties. The organization is always looking for more volunteers and more children to help. Individuals that are interested can contact Literacy Education Assistance Pups at 302-645-9010.