Making a "Pawsitive" Difference


How a yellow Labrador Retriever spent his summer helping five Springfield students dramatically improve their reading skills is one of the most remarkable stories of the year.

Henry, a one-year-old Certified Therapy Dog, spent one day a week with kids enrolled in Summer Day Camp at The Fairbanks, where kids reading below grade level could practice reading aloud to him while improving their literacy skills.

Results were remarkable. When the program started, it was a struggle for some of the kids to finish a whole book, but by the end of the 6-week program, each child was easily completing the stories they read to Henry. One 5th grade student reading at a 3rd grade level completed the program testing at an 8th grade level. Another student reading above grade level saw a three month improvement in reading scores.

The students worked hard for their achievements, reading for over four hours in the mornings and spending their afternoons doing literacy enrichment activities. These activities were guided by the week’s theme. For instance, if the theme was “Under the Sea,” kids read everything they could about ocean life, then based all their craft projects, discussions and activities on what they learned in their books.

“It was basically like being in school 8 hours a day, only fun,” said Amanda Black, Ozarks Regional YMCA Area Program Director. Springfield schools with the highest rates of free and reduced lunch are less likely to have students who read on grade level or are proficient in math or science. This “Achievement Gap” among low-income students in low-income neighborhoods can contribute to a cycle of generational poverty. Studies show youth who do not read on level in third grade are less likely to graduate high school. Those who do not graduate high school are less likely to earn living wages that can support a family.

These individuals who could not read well in elementary school are therefore more likely to have children who cannot read well. Four of the five students were reading below grade level when the program began. When the program ended, only one child was still reading below grade level. The average Grade Equivalent improvement was 2.175. The average increase in Percentile Rank was 41, meaning that on average youth improved their reading rates so they were greater than 41% of students in their grades.

Parent feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Clearly this program was a success, and we hope you will stand with us as we work to expand the program and minimize the local Achievement Gap.

As for Henry? He continues to visit the Y once or twice a week to spread joy to our staff and members.

Funding for the program was provided by YUSA, Musgrave, program fees paid by state childcare reimbursements, and other ORYMCA sources.

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