It’s not unusual to see students, teachers and staff in the library at Mansfield Independent School District’s Glenn Harmon Elementary School. But on certain days of the week, you may see some unexpected guests there.
“I worked at a school where we had therapy dogs in the special education classrooms,” says Assistant Principal Trenell Scott. “I am a dog lover and watched the kids interact with the dogs and thought it would be a great idea to bring it to our school.”
That’s right. Dogs have become members of the Glenn Harmon community.
Scott started the Rover Reader program in October. But unlike the setting at her previous school, she wanted the program to reach beyond the special education classrooms. So she designed it with any student challenged by reading in mind.
Scott asked each teacher to choose one student who they thought would benefit from the program – children who have difficulty reading and therefore are not comfortable doing so aloud. Once a week, about 35 students read to a therapy dog in a private room located in the library.
“Reading to a dog is a lot more comfortable,” says Scott. “And it’s a cool environment to be able to work out some of your reading problems.”
The teachers guide the children to books that are appropriate for their grade level, but they get to choose what they want to read.
“My student has gained a lot of confidence,” says teacher Dembraski Moore. “She has become more open to sharing in class discussion and responding to questions.”
Even the volunteers (dog handlers) notice the change.
“It is very rewarding for us to see the children’s faces light up when they see the dogs, as well as see how much the children enjoy reading to them,” says volunteer Lori Corcoran. “It has been such a delight to see their progress!”
Two different groups – Pet Partners and Heart of Texas Therapy Dogs – bring dogs to the school. And a third has recently reached out to Scott in hopes of joining the program.
Scott says the volunteers are extremely important to Rover Reader. They know their kids’ names and needs. But the children in the program are not the only ones who benefit from the dogs.
“On occasion a child will be having a bad day and needs a therapy dog to love on. Their teacher will bring them by to sit with Duke for a while,” says volunteer Abby Wilson. “It makes a difference for the child, and soon they relax and forget their troubles, focusing on Duke.”
“They affect our environment overall,” says Scott. “It helps the school to be a warmer place.”
Glenn Harmon Elementary is located in Arlington, but it is part of the Mansfield ISD. It is not the only school in the district to use therapy dogs, but Scott says she doesn’t think there is another program as extensive and meeting the needs for as many kids as this one.
The students in the program will continue with their assigned dog through the end of the school year. But it’s just the beginning.
“We got started this year with the anticipation of this being a staple at our school,” says Scott. “It’s just something we do.”