Landon and Bernard, The Reading Dog

There is a dog walking the halls of the Mary Scott Annex of Ginter Park Elementary School heading right into a classroom.

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His name is Bernard. And the hand holding Bernard’s leash, as well as his bag of treats, is that of Landon Woody, a Micah volunteer from St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church.

If you ask any student in Ms. Houlette’s kindergarten class, they will tell you that Bernard reads with them.  Bernard is, in fact, a reading dog and he has made books fun for a classroom of new readers.

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Landon and a student reading to Bernard

Every year, Landon begins with the new class by coming in every week, getting to know the kids for a few months as she reads with them.  Then Bernard joins her.  In some ways Bernard is a reward, but he is also a tool to help students read.  Ms. Houlette says “the kids adore Bernard.”  The kids will take turns sitting with Bernard and reading a book to him.  “It’s completely non-judgmental,” says Landon.  Bernard is not going to criticize or correct, but simply sits there and wag his tail, providing silent encouragement.  “The tail never stops,” observes Ms. Houlette.  The kids can point out the pictures to him as they read the story, and learn to love reading with such an agreeable partner.  The students will tell Ms. Houlette, “I read a hard book to Bernard today!” filled with pride from their accomplishment.

Bernard seems perfectly at home in the brightly colored classroom.  As kindergartners file in from their resource class and rush over to hug and pet their friend, he stays very calm and still.  Landon Woody told us some of his background.  “He was a rescue from the SPCA, and he was timid at first,” she says.  She tells us that Bernard’s story has really been one of “serve and be healed.” On top of being a reading dog, Bernard is also a Certified Therapy Dog.  He’s not rattled easily, even if the kids are “a little bouncy sometimes,” as Ms. Houlette puts it.  Landon tells us, “he loves the kids!”

Landon’s story of service is just as compelling.  She tells us, “It started from a sermon, one of those get-out-and-do-sorts. So I volunteered at a library and they had a reading dog.”  From there, Landon became a reading tutor herself, learning how to engage kids in reading.  She adopted a dog and they began training.  She recalls, “There is a great big book and you study it and take a test.”  Once she began volunteering at the school, she says “I only had to come once,” then she was hooked.  She has been volunteering for six years now with Ms. Houlette’s class.  Her strategy is simple: “I just let them have fun.”

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A page from the book that Ms. Houlette’s class made about Bernard

Ms. Houlette and her class are delighted to enjoy the unique resource of a reading dog.  They even made a book about how much they love Bernard!  And what’s not to love?  He can roll over, shake, play dead, and even dance.  However, Landon remarks with a smile, “He only works for food.”  His star trick is a real show stopper.  Looking at a brightly colored flashcard held by a student with the word “sit” clearly printed on it (and after a very discrete signal from Landon), Bernard sits.  Gasps of astonishment fill the room; the students are amazed.  Bernard can read!  The adults watching are amazed too because Bernard’s real trick is inspiring an entire kindergarten classroom to read, just like him.

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