Unconventional solutions

Published 10:26 pm Saturday, January 14, 2012

At first glance, dogs might not seem to be the best reading teachers. They have a hard time turning the pages of a book, they don’t have a high level of comprehension, and — let’s face it — they can’t read.

But a program from the Suffolk Humane Society is taking advantage of the special relationship that children have with our four-legged friends to help students in Suffolk elementary schools improve their reading skills. If the enthusiasm a group of children showed for the program recently at Creekside Elementary School is an indication of its potential, the Humane Society and schools system might well be onto something.

The Books and Reading for Kids in Suffolk program, BARKS for short, brings therapy dogs to the schools, where children who are struggling with reading can sit quietly with the attentive canines and read books to them, without the pressure of parents or other adults correcting them or “helping” them with the task.

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The program is held once a month at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Suffolk, but some of the city’s elementary schools have begun to express interest in giving their students more opportunities to participate. Creekside is the first of Suffolk’s public schools to incorporate it into its curriculum.

BARKS helps children gain confidence in their reading skills, which organizers hope will translate into a desire to read more books. Since practice improves most skills, the idea is that the program will help make these children better readers.

Reading ability is a vital part of educational attainment. Anything that helps improve that ability for students who might otherwise have been left behind is a good thing. It’s good to see Suffolk’s public schools willing to try to solve the problem with unconventional solutions.