There was some apprehension at first, on both sides it seemed, but when a group of young students from FRS Connections settled in to read to dogs last month as part of a therapeutic educational program, it could not have seemed more natural.
“They loved it. They wanted us to leave them there,” Kelsey Satterfield, a case manager with FRS Connections in Hillsboro, said about how the students reacted to the dogs. “It was really interesting to see the animals’ reaction to the kids, and the kids’ reaction to the animals. I don’t think the animals wanted them to leave, either.”
The idea developed when FRS personnel saw a story about kids reading to dogs as a form of therapy. Satterfield and Jessica Puckett, an FRS program site manager, were asked to check it out. So they called the Highland County Humane Society Animal Shelter to see if officials would be interested in having kids come and read to the dogs there.
“They were all for it. They even asked us to come on a day when the shelter was shut down so the kids would have a little more privacy. That was very nice of them,” Satterfield said.
That Feb. 8 visit to the animal shelter by four students was the only visit FRS has made there so far, but there are plans to make more.
“The big interest for us in working with animals is, number one, to provide therapy for the students we work with here. It provides a sense of therapy we aren’t able to provide,” Puckett said. “It’s just a good, calming atmosphere for the kids. And reading is good, too, because the kids get to read to someone who may not be as judgmental – like if they mispronounce a word or something.”
The reading program is a sort of reward for younger students who attend school at FRS, where they receive three hours of counseling and three hours of academic instruction each school day. FRS Connections serves all the public schools in Highland and Fayette counties, and the Eastern Brown and Ripley school districts in Brown County. Participation in the reading program is a reward for students who show positive behavior and achievement.
“The ones that haven’t gone yet are looking forward to going from the stories they’ve heard from the other kids,” Puckett said.
While the dog program is the latest educational innovation for the FRS staff, the students have also done community involvement projects at Our Daily Bread and Samaritan Outreach Services in Hillsboro.
Puckett and Satterfield said they hope to offer the reading program once a month.
Satterfield said that part of what is taught in group sessions involves students’ behavior for themselves and toward others.
“One kid said the dog he was getting ready to read to looked sad, but that when he started petting it, the dog cheered up,” said Satterfield. “It was really interesting to see them react positively with each other.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.