California Educator

June/July 2019

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environment 10 years ago, when she was working as a math specialist in an after - school program and realized her students were so much more engaged when their math assignments involved a furry friend. e stu- dents would play with the dog and then calculate how fast or how far he ran. By the end of the year, every student in the pro- gram improved their math skills by on e g ra d e l e v el , an d tw o students moved up two grade l e v el s . Al l en w a s c onv i n c e d about the power of a therapy dog in her classroom. "I think there's a lot we haven't discovered about why and how this works," she says. Some of the science behind Levi's magic is known, however. Interacting with the pup lowers the level of cortisol (a stress hormone) in the brain and "He works in math, he works in reading, he does social-emotional learning, and he works with kids in crisis," says Allen, a member of the Davis Teachers Association (DTA). "He is unique in the therapy dog world, because he is trained to work with all people, not just one person." Little hands extend for a quick pet as Levi meanders around the room, stopping occasionally to give a little extra affection where needed. He seems to have a knack for finding the stu- dents who could use a friend at that very moment. For five years, Levi has been an integral part of Allen's classroom, listening to students read, reducing anxiety, brightening bad days and providing comfort. A 25-year educator, Allen first brought a dog into a classroom Why Read With Dogs? W E A S K E D Leslie Allen how reading to her therapy dog Levi makes a dif- ference for her students. "Reading to Levi is interacting with a living thing. Kids can sit down with the dog and read for 45 minutes without stopping. Working dogs like shepherds make the best reading buddies because they're not averse to eye contact like most dogs. Adults know that dogs don't need to look at us to listen, but for kids it helps them know the dog is paying attention. "The students always read out loud to Levi. When you read out loud, your brain catches mistakes that would be missed if you were reading silently. So, when they read out loud to Levi, they catch their mistakes and their fluency goes up dramatically." Sixth-grade English teacher Leslie Allen's special friend Levi helps kids learn to read, reduces student anxiety, and increases "happy" hormones like Serotonin and Oxytocin. The Australian Shepherd even has his own Student ID. Special education teacher Pam Snipes' therapy dogs,Zip and Mick Wagger, are popular with students and staff alike. " Zip and Mickey seem to be the bridge between 'I'm not talking to you' and 'OK, I'm ready to talk now.'" — Pam Snipes, Davis Teachers Association 35 J U N E / J U L Y 2 019

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