A golden retriever is helping children learn how to read in an Iowa City elementary school. Julie Robinson is principal at Penn Elementary and owner of Sidda, the school’s resident "learning dog."
Robinson says she first brought Sidda to the school two years ago, after seeing research that reading to a dog can boost a child’s confidence level and literacy skills.
"I’ve found that to be true," Robinson said. "Reluctant readers that wouldn’t necessarily read out loud to me, because they’re afraid of making a mistake, will sit down and read out loud to Sidda." Sidda has done more than improve reading skills. Robinson says she’s also effective in calming a child who is in the throngs of a temper tantrum.
"She’s great at de-escalating that because it’s just hard to stay angry and upset when you’ve got this dog looking at you with these big brown eyes…she’s licking your hand and you’re petting her," Robinson said. "It really helps de-escalate things much more quickly." Robinson bought Sidda from a Kansas based therapy dog program called Canine, Assistance, Rehabilitation, Education and Services – or CARES. The dog has proven to be a valuable tool in improving the social behavior of students at Penn.
Robinson provided an example: "We had a little kindergartener last year who would never come in when the bell rang. We told him that Sidda needed to be brushed every day, but she needed to be brushed when the bell rang. We told him if he would come in when the bell rang, he could be the person to brush Sidda." Problem solved. Robinson says administrators and parents have been extremely supportive of the school’s dog.
"She really just creates a nice atmosphere at school," Robinson said. Sidda also spends time in the school’s health office, sitting with children who were injured at recess or are sick and waiting for a parent to come take them home. Other schools in Iowa that have learning dogs include College Community in Cedar Rapids and West Liberty Elementary School.