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4Paws Making a Difference in Our Schools

Rudy, Joanne Yates, and student at El Verano Elementary School

4Paws has had a lot of press lately and with good cause! It was a joy to read the extraordinary testimonials from teachers who have witnessed first-hand the transformation that takes place when a therapy dog joins the classroom reading program.

I cannot emphasize enough how something so simple can create such a special time in class where children feel safe and love to do what they are learning. Craig Madison, a teacher at El Verano Elementary School. 

Rudy [a therapy dog] is an amazing miracle worker.  Lydia Calderon, a teacher at Flowery Elementary School

The full testimonials from each of these teachers is provided below and be sure to read: Reading help, and a cuddle – call in the therapy dogs, a recent article in the Sonoma Valley Sun. There you will meet Fenway owned by Impact100 Sonoma member, Mara Kahn.

4Paws Learning and Wellness Center received a Community Grant of $2,200 from Impact100 Sonoma in 2015 to increase the number of Sonoma Valley canine social therapy teams that provide comfort to healthcare patients and assist children struggling with reading.

 Testimonial from Craig Madison:
I have been working with members of 4Paws for the past 4 years… ever since El Verano School initiated its first Summer Reading Academy. At that time, we teachers were trying to turn struggling readers, who had been discouraged by over-testing in school, back into readers who loved books and rediscovered reading for pleasure. The experiment was a resounding success due to many factors. But one very key element within the summer reading academy was the inclusion of the 4Paws literacy dogs and their human companions.  

Every day young children had the opportunity to sit down with a small group and read to a dog. This very simple act calmed our anxious readers, and brought smiles to their faces. This time reading to a literacy dog and their companion became a high point of the children’s day. Children developed a bond with the animals who were there to be read to, and students enjoyed sharing their enthusiasm for the books they had chosen to read.  

After summer reading academy, I contacted the 4Paws organization and arranged with Jane Wicklund for her and her literacy dog, Maggie, to begin coming to my 3rd grade classroom during the regular school year. For the past 3 years, Jane and Maggie have come for an hour during our Tuesday morning reading time. Once again, the children savor their time with Jane and Maggie. They are so comfortable and really want to show what good readers they are becoming.  I cannot emphasize enough how something so simple can create such a special time in class where children feel safe and love to do what they are learning.

Testimonial from Lydia Calderon: For the past 8 school years, I have had the great privilege to teach at Flowery Elementary School.  Over these years, I have noticed that many students are a bit hesitant to read in Spanish.  I knew that this would be one of my challenges for this year’s Summer Reading and Writing Academy at El Verano.  However, life presented an amazing opportunity to have a literacy dog come into my classroom.  I did not hesitate in signing up for a literacy dog to come into the lives of my students this summer.  

At first there was some hesitance from a few of my students to read in Spanish.  However, when I announced that we would have literacy dog come visit us weekly so that he can learn Spanish – many eyes opened widely.  All of a sudden every single student was reading in Spanish.  They would practice all week long in hopes to be able to read and help Rudy become bilingual. 

One particular student stood out the most.  She has had quite the challenge with Spanish.  She wasn’t reading or participating in class.  My heart told me that I should speak to Rudy’s mom and explain what the situation was.  Joanne (Rudy’s mom), Rudy, and myself came to agreement that this young lady would read first to Rudy.  I spoke to my student ahead of time and told her that Rudy is very excited to learn Spanish, and that she would be the first to go read to him.  Her eyes filled with great joy and she immediately began reading Spanish books. 

On the day she met and read to Rudy a miraculous transformation occurred.  She was smiling and she had a hunger to read more Spanish books.  A few days later she surprised me when she raised her hand to go to the front of the class and read a part of a Spanish play.  My eyes teared up and goosebumps appeared on both of my arms as I saw my student with this new found confidence, and love for Spanish reading stand in front of the classroom and read in Spanish.

Soon after this I contacted my school’s administrator in hopes that Flowery School will have literacy dogs come into the classrooms to motivate students who are hesitant with Spanish help other dogs become bilingual like Rudy. 

Rudy and Joanne, you are both great inspirations and I will forever treasure you in my heart for what you did for my students!!  I do hope to see Rudy around Flowery as he continues to work on his Spanish.

Testimonials and photos provided by Joanne Yates, 4Paws

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P.O. Box 1958
Sonoma, CA 95476
(707) 939-5007

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