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Guest Blog by Donna Friess, Ph.D , The Magical Classroom: 6th Graders Who Won’t Leave and Two Big Dogs

“Foster” by Donna Friess
Donna L. Friess, PhD is an author, professor, life coach and a fan of service dogs that teach young children to read. She is my guest this month and I’m glad she’s here. Donna is also an artist, as you can see by the sensitive portrait of Foster the dog. Please check out her web page for more details about Donna at www.drdonnafriess.com.

The Magical Classroom: 6th Graders Who Won’t Leave and Two Big Dogs

Recently I had the pleasure of accompanying my daughter as she picked her three children up from Olivenhein Pioneer Elementary School in San Diego County, CA. The energetic enthusiasm of the children freed after seven hours in the classroom was contagious. I could not help but smile as the children of all ages raced past us, some playfully pushing at one another glad to be free.
After meeting two of my grandchildren and their classmates and teachers, my oldest grandson, Jake, still had not come out of his room so we set out to find him. Upon opening Jake’s classroom door, an electric wave of excitement spilled over the threshold. I was stunned to find that the room was still full of sixth graders happily working at their desks! By now about 15 to 20 minutes had elapsed since the dismissal bell and yet the students were not leaving. The magic of the classroom engulfed me in its warm embrace. Then I met a key element of the class: Tank, a big yellow service dog. Why would the children want to leave?
Tank is their philanthropic project. They support him and one other service dog, Foster, through their non-profit business. They make and sell dog biscuits, plants, as well as dog houses. All of this helps support the service dogs who assist in their reading-buddy project with the younger children. I thought, we have come a long way in education. Clearly the opportunity to know Tank and Foster, to support them, to have a business and a business plan had brought out the imagination and enthusiasm of the children and is teaching them life skills. Jake showed me the cubby area where the service dogs, the 2nd graders and the 6th grader work on the younger child’s reading skills. The young children read to the dog under the supervision of the older student. Jake explained to me that research reveals a gain in confidence on the part of the young reader when the child reads to the dog. Clearly there is confidence to be gained by the 6th grader as well. I also know that in addition there is solid science behind the positive effects pets have on human beings. Talk about a win win situation!
We worry about inadequacies in our educational system. If more teachers like Jake’s Mrs. B could understand how to rivet the students and to turn learning into magic, more students might be better prepared in the future. I applaud the creativity of bringing such innovation to our students!
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