Canine Classmates Propel Readers

Fifth-grader Ally, right, along with a partner, reads to Crockett in the Startzville Elementary School library.
Fifth-grader Ally, right, along with a partner, reads to Crockett in the Startzville Elementary School library.

Submitted By Madison Lozano

Ten-year-old Ally, a fifth-grader at Startzville Elementary, didn’t always love reading. But since joining the Canine Classmates program, her skills have improved and she even passed the STAAR reading exam. “I didn’t like reading before, but now I’m starting to,” she said with a smile. “Crockett is chill. Once you pet him, he calms you down and relaxes you.” Crockett is one of four Newfoundland dogs in Canine Classmates, a non-profit founded eight years ago by Donna Dishman, executive director.

CanineClassmates_2“We started at Goodwin Frazier and there has been such a growth and demand,” Dishman said. She and two other handlers spend their time traveling across Comal County, providing one-on-one 30-minute sessions weekly for Comal ISD elementary students. The sessions start with students bringing books from their classrooms. The youngsters read to the dogs, helping the dogs “understand” the story. Dishman or another handler is always nearby to aid in pronunciation or comprehension of the text.

“Literacy is a huge issue,” Dishman said. “We need something to propel kids towards reading. With the dogs, the kids work harder, they’re more relaxed and it increases their self-esteem.”

Teachers hand-select students to participate based on their individual needs. “The dog is the mechanism,” Dishman said. “They provide nonjudgmental reading partners for the child.” Canine Classmates currently sees 200 kids annually, while aiming to increase that number next year.

Not only do the children’s reading skills improve, but they learn good dog behavior and watch the pups grow as they build relationships with them throughout the year. Comal ISD students were even given the privilege of choosing the names for Dante, Crockett, Theodore and Einstein, said fourth-grader Tyler. “Sometimes I read to the dogs at my grandma’s house. I’m getting better at reading and spelling,” he said.

Elizabeth, a second-grader, reads to Dante every Thursday. “First we read, then we play,” she said. “My favorite part is when we get to give him treats. Dante likes me to read to him.” Elizabeth has gotten so excited about books that she now reads to her three-year-old cousin at home. “I’m excited to come to school and do this instead of staying in a cooped up classroom,” she said.

In addition to its in-school program, Canine Classmates participates in programs at the McKenna Children’s Museum and the Pilot Club of Canyon Lake. “It’s a partnership with the teachers and schools. We just love what we do and are so appreciative of the support of CISD” Dishman said. She has found that participants’ attendance even improves, as students don’t want to miss a session with their favorite pup pal. “The kids look forward to it,” Dishman said. “We want to instill a love of reading. They can take it home and extend it into their summer break too.”

For more information on Canine Classmates, visit www.canineclassmates.org.

Tex Hill Takes To The Garden

On April 9, parents and students came together to make improvements to the garden.
On April 9, parents and students came together to make improvements to the garden.

Special To Welcome Home

Tex Hill Middle School is a campus full of fearless leaders, dedicated staff, and generous parent volunteers. The Tex Hill PTSA loves our Hill volunteers and so does the garden! The Tex Hill community garden was established in August 2015 through the support of the Hill campus, the Hill PTSA and an Eagle Scout project. Grant Kahl, an eighth grade NEISD student at the time, devised the garden scheme and worked through the summer to develop and establish the community garden. Once the Eagle Scout project was done, the garden was then the responsibility of the students, staff and parents.

A pair of students happily display their fresh vegetables.
A pair of students happily display their fresh vegetables.

The garden was established at Hill to give everyone on the campus a place to discover and learn about the process of growing foods, and to help the community gain an appreciation of the necessity of understanding what we eat and where it comes from. The garden brings different types of groups and students together in a common place focusing all involved on a common goal. A sense of responsibility and excitement develops each time a visit is made to the beds.

Parents and students came together Saturday April 9 to spend a couple of hours working hard to help make improvements to the garden. Dirt and cinderblocks were delivered and volunteers got busy adding over 900 blocks to the garden. Blocks were added to make the beds deeper to help improve production in the garden. Yards of dirt and mulch were then added to help make the garden a better, stronger place for the vegetables and herbs. Volunteers were also able to put in new spring/summer produce, such as green beans, squash, melon, tomatoes, basil, dill, cucumbers, kale, potatoes, and much more!

In the words of Audrey Hepburn, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” Special thanks to all who came out to help; your time and effort are appreciated.