It’s 9:30 AM on a Friday morning, and second-grade teacher Erica Rodriguez is setting up her classroom. The anticipation in the room is high – lots of excited wiggles and wide smiles color the landscape of her classroom. As students put on their nametags, they can hear their volunteers near and immediately get into the SitStayRead ready position. Along with the whispers from the hallway, there’s another sound that echoes among the school halls – paws walking on the tile and tags jingling from a secure collar.
What would normally be an usual sight inside a Chicago Public School is routine for these students at Daniel R. Cameron Elementary School in Humboldt Park. They’re ready and excited to read, write, and put their imaginations down on paper with the help of their two and four-legged volunteers. When SitStayRead is there, volunteers become pillars of support and encouragement, and dogs become story subjects and life-long friends.
“Since partnering with SitStayRead, my students’ behavior, attention, and focus have improved,” said Rodriguez. “On SitStayRead days, students come to class ready to learn and ready to engage. And while test scores show that SitStayRead is working academically, I cannot ignore the very real social impact the program has on my kids.”
Only 3 in 10 students entering fourth grade are proficient readers, and studies show that a low-income student enters the first grade with only 25 hours of being read to, compared to the typical middle-income student that enters first grade with over 1,000 hours. We want to break that cycle, and help under resourced students increase their literacy skills and grow their confidence in reading and writing by bringing dogs into the classroom.
“These children in low-income schools with low reading scores are struggling in their ability to learn how to read, and so they have a lot of anxiety,” said Professor of Psychological Science at DePaul University Sandra Virtue. “By having the dogs just present shows a decrease in blood pressure and then they can focus on the skill of learning how to read.”
SitStayRead brings the magic of reading and writing, dedicated volunteers, and caring Certified Reading Assistance Dogs together in the classroom to over 2,000, K-3 grade students annually. SitStayRead serves 17 Chicago Public Schools in low-income neighborhoods all over Chicago, providing over 80 in-classroom programs a year at no cost to partner schools.
“Our SitStayRead volunteers truly develop our students’ love of literacy. Through gentle exposure to the dogs, our students internalize the love of reading while also building meaningful relationships with the dogs,” said Natasha Ortega, Assistant Principal at SitStayRead partner school John Hamline Elementary in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. “Furthermore, SitStayRead provides copies of published stories created by the students. These books provide an authentic writing experience for our students and provide a meaningful connection between reading and writing for our children while also building their investment in this process.”
With a proven canine-based curriculum built for each grade level, SitStayRead works to improve various literacy skills, including reading fluency, comprehension, written expression, and enhancing social-emotional learning, as well as work to establish positive attitudes towards reading and writing and develop an understanding of and connection with animals. SitStayRead is made possible by the teams of dedicated volunteers, both human and canine, that impact the lives of so many elementary-school students each year.
“Volunteering with SitStayRead has changed my life. I’m a happier person, seeing these kids’ faces light up when we walk in with the dogs, witnessing a child’s confidence grow, and especially being present when a child feels the spark of learning something new,” said Dog Team volunteer Christine, who volunteers with her Certified Reading Assistance Dog, Bobby. “Knowing that we are giving these disadvantaged young people a critical tool for success in life helps assuage my frustration at not being able to do more to right the wrongs in the world.”
SitStayRead is in great need of volunteers, both with and without dogs, for this school year. There is no volunteer commitment requirement, so volunteers can pick where they go, when they go! If you’re interested in giving back for an hour a week during the school day, sharing a love of literacy with elementary students, and have a love of dogs, please visit our website to learn more about getting involved and to fill out our Volunteer Application! sitstayread.org
If you’d like to talk to us in person to find out more information, SitStayRead will have a table in the Mutt Jackson area of Montrose Dog Beach this Thursday, August 8 from 5-8 PM during Big Dog Night. We’ll also be at Market Days this weekend, so feel free to stop by, say hi, and learn more about our programming from staff and volunteers alike!
Victoria Luisi, Communications Manager, Dog Team Liaison