On Literacy Day,
Teachers Show How
Can Spark Reading
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
A pair of warm brown eyes on a furry face can be far more approachable than a correcting adult.
With that thought in mind, Camp Creek Elementary School's reading specialist, Misty Mercer, teamed guest readers with teachers' friendly pets for the school's Third Annual Literacy Day on Friday.
This timing comes just before International Literacy Day on Sunday.
Small dogs such as Bear the Pomeranian and Raegan the Dachshund exuberantly greeted Pre-K-through-third-grade students in their classrooms before settling down to listen quietly as guest readers shared literary classics.
A LISTENING EAR
In some cases, students even paired one-on-one with the animals to read to them, a situation that Bear loved, considering how generous those students were with treats.
Third-grade student Jasmine King generously doled out treats before
reading to Bear, who appeared to listen adoringly.
"I love to see dogs, and I think that it's a great day for the dogs," she said. "If you read to a dog, you can do it [read].
"You can read, and you can learn how to read. You'll get better and faster at reading."
This one-on-one experience, Mercer explained, is a trial run for the school as Csmp Creek Elementary works toward implementation of the University of Tennessee's Human Animal Bond in Tennessee (H.A.B.I.T.) Ruff Reading Program.
No other school in Greeneville or Greene County has yet explored the program, which partners therapy dogs from the community with students for a "no pressure" reading environment.
"I'm really, really excited about this one!" Mercer said.
She explained that the school's guidance counselor first came across the program when studying counseling using therapy dogs.
"It's just amazing what they do," she said. "It helps to give students some confidence."
"It gives a non-biased, living thing that students can be reading to that's not going to judge their reading, but it's going to allow them the practice that they need to read out loud," added Dr. Amy Hall, Camp Creek's principal.
"The motivation is a big thing."
Mercer further explained that implementing UT's program will require a certification of the school building. In addition, she will be required to attend an informational session.
Taking care of those requirements has not yet been done, of course. But her excitement over the possibilities the program represents prompted Friday's trial run -- which by mid-morning she had deemed a success.
Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk, who attended the Literacy Day activities, was also impressed by the program's possibilities.
"I think incorporating animals is a wonderful idea," Kirk said. "Sometimes kids will talk to animals when they can't [talk to] adults. The animals won't judge them."
While UT's program is designed for students just learning to read -- grades Pre-K through 2nd grade -- the upper grades were not forgotten.
On Friday, "celebrity guests" such as Kirk and Tusculum College basketball players served as the upper grades' motivation to read by enthusiastically delving into some of their personal favorite books with the older classes.
"The goal for today was, we want to emphasize the crucial literacy skills that students need for success -- not only in school, but in work and in life," explained Dr. Hall.
The theme for the day was "Read Across the Ages," with classics such as Dr. Seuss, Junie B. Jones, "Tuck Everlasting," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," and "Little House on the Prairie" highlighting a selection of books from numerous decades.
DRESS FOR THE DECADES
Guest readers in each classroom dressed in a way appropriate to the decade in which the book they read was written.
Hall, for example, sported a poodle skirt on Friday to read "The Cat in the Hat" to the kindergartners.
"A good book never goes out of style," Hall explained. "If you can read, pretty much the door's open to do anything else that you want to do."
The goal this year is to improve by four percentage points the school's overall percentage of students scoring Proficient or Advanced in reading on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP).
Turning Camp Creek into a school filled with avid and capable readers has been Mercer's goal since she became the school's first reading specialist.
Three years into these Literacy Day events, she said she can see a marked difference.
"We've come a long way since three years ago," she said. "Scores have increased, and the reading/literacy culture has dramatically increased. The kids are much more excited about it.
"Even the teachers are more excited with it," Mercer added.
"It is because of the teachers, their dedication and their commitment," Hall added. "They are the key in instilling the love of reading, the love of learning, in our students."
On Friday, Hall challenged each student to read more books than she herself does over the course of the school year.
"I have a lot of children's books in my office," she said, grinning. "The more they read, the better they read."
The school plans to hold a Literacy Night event for the entire community near the end of October and another event in March with other schools in the southern quadrant of the county.