Therapy Dog in Odessa Helps Children Relax, Read, Learn

When Wednesday rolls around, Burleson Elementary School second-graders look forward to reading to their four-footed friend Clementine.

Brought in by owner Nancy Henderson, Clementine is a therapy dog with Therapy Dogs International participating in the organization's Tail Waggin' Tutors program.

The Odessa American reported the main goal of Tail Waggin' Tutors is to give students a non-judgmental way to practice their reading skills. "Many of the children chosen for this program have difficulties reading and as a result have developed self-esteem issues," the website said. "They are often self-conscious when reading aloud in front of other classmates."

Henderson said four students usually read to the St. Bernard.

After Clementine was approved as a tutor, Henderson received a list of places where therapy dogs had worked. Henderson said she looked at the schools and send out emails. Burleson Principal Tristan Specter responded. She began bringing Clementine on campus this year.

Henderson, who has been Clementine's owner for five years, also takes her to the Ector County Library on Mondays.

Clementine typically works 45 minutes to an hour.

"She actually is really energized to be with the kids," Henderson said. "She really loves children. She knows when we're coming down here and she runs."

Clementine doesn't mind if youngsters pet her or pull on her ears.

"That's one of the things, requirements, to be a therapy dog approved with Therapy Dogs International is to be very calm and very tolerant. . St. Bernards are perfect for that because that's their nature," Henderson said.

Henderson said she's not a teacher and therefore no expert, but she said it seems to her that the children reading to Clementine have improved.

Since she's been coming to Burleson, Henderson said she's seen students progress from being somewhat timid because they didn't know her or Clementine. Over time, the comfort level has increased and the children have gained confidence in reading, which is the aim of the Tail Waggin' Tutor program.

Of course the youngsters can't resist Clementine.

Eight-year-old Mitchell Keen likes to pet dogs.

"I really like dogs," Keen said.

Nine-year-old David Burrola likes reading to Clementine.

"Her favorite thing is to lay her head in their laps," Henderson said. "She likes to look at pictures, though. If they show her the pictures, she'd be interested in that."

Henderson said she plans to return next year and called the arrangement a "match made in heaven."

Specter, the principal, said he especially likes students who need a boost to visit Clementine.

"They can read out loud without any fear of embarrassment or judgment," he said in an email. "Clementine loves coming to see the students and provides unconditional love to them. I think she gives them the confidence to read out loud and they see that they can do it.  We are blessed to have Clementine and Mrs. Henderson as VIPS at Burleson."

VIPS stands for Volunteers & Partners.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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