Read to Rover Program boosts reader confidence
By Katelyn Gendron
Reminder Assistant Editor
WESTFIELD Learning to read well can be a stressful challenge for young students. However, one local K-9 trainer is proving that reading to dogs can generate a child's love for the written word as well boost his or her confidence when reading aloud.
The Read to Rover Program at the Boys' and Girls' Library is providing young readers with the opportunity to face those fears with the help of a furry friend.
In an interview with Reminder Publications, Melissa Kiebasa, head trainer of Sandy Meadow Farm Dog Obedience on Union Street, explained that over 10 dogs are specially trained to participate in the program on the third Saturday of each month.
"I've seen [the Read to Rover Program] tremendously boost self-esteem and reading [for students]," she said, adding that the program was first established five years ago within Westfield Public Schools for at-risk readers.
Kiebasa explained that reading to dogs creates a non-threatening, non-judgmental environment for a young student who might otherwise be teased by their peers when reading aloud at school.
Dan Paquette, Youth Services Librarian at the Boys' and Girls' Library, said that the program has been successful for many of the participating children. He added that not only does Read to Rover minimize the fear of reading aloud but also fear of animals.
Kiebasa noted that each of the dogs must pass the American Kennel Club's Good Citizenship Test, the Therapy Dog International certification test and the seven-week Pediatric Therapy Dog Unit Training Class at Sandy Meadow Farm. She added that the dog and handler team practice many exercises that simulate childlike behaviors such as crying, grabbing, hugging, running or screaming, therefore teaching the dog the appropriate well-mannered response.
Kiebasa explained that many of the dogs trained at Sandy Meadow Farm also participate in the K-9 For Kids Program, which brings the animals to children's hospitals in order to promote physical activity and diversion from their everyday treatment.
The next Read to Rover Program for kindergarten, first and second graders at the Boys' and Girls' Library will take place on Jan. 17. The program is limited to 20 children and requires the presence of an adult.
To register for the program at the library call 562-6158 ext. 5.
For more information about Read to Rover and the K-9s for Kids Program go to www.sandymeadowfarm.com.