First grade students at Russellville Elementary are piloting the Ruff Reading program in Hamblen County Schools.
A school program is most successful when there is a partnership between the teacher and the H.A.B.I.T. (Human-Animal Bond in Tennessee) Ruff Reading volunteer. H.A.B.I.T.’s half of the equation is to bring a nonjudgmental and unconditionally loving animal that will create a supportive environment for students. On the school side, the teacher will have the opportunity to direct the use of this tool to create the best outcome for her/his students’ academic, social, or emotional development.
Mrs. Rhonda Winstead, the school counselor, is H.A.B.I.T. certified volunteer and her two dogs, Titan and Chewie, have been medically and behaviorally evaluated and certified by the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine to be H.A.B.I.T. volunteers. Russellville Elementary School is also certified as a H.A.B.I.T. facility.
"The presence of dogs has a calming effect on many people. Many primary schools are becoming increasingly pressurized environments and children generally do not respond well to such pressure," Winstead said.
"A dog creates an environment that immediately feels more relaxed and welcoming. Reading can be a solitary activity, but can also be a pleasurable, shared social event. Children who are struggling to read benefit from the simple pleasure of reading to a loyal, loving listener. Children who are struggling to read, for whatever reason, need to build confidence and rediscover a motivation for reading. A dog is a reassuring, uncritical audience who will not mind if mistakes are made. Children can read to the dog, uninterrupted; comments will not be made. Errors can be addressed in other contexts at other times. For more experienced or capable readers, they can experiment with reading with expression, knowing that the dog will respond positively – and building fluency further develops comprehension in readers."
H.A.B.I.T. stands for Human-Animal Bond in Tennessee. H.A.B.I.T. is composed of representatives from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine volunteers from the community, and private veterinary practitioners.
H.A.B.I.T. sponsors programs that foster pet visitation to nursing homes, retirement centers, mental health centers, rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, schools, and other facilities.
H.A.B.I.T. also offers resources such as trained volunteers, medically and behaviorally screened animals, and guidance regarding pet visitation, program development, and evaluation.
Established in 1986, H.A.B.I.T., composed of community volunteers, works to explore the circumstances and consequences of the human-animal bond and to promote this valuable bond between people and animals. Currently, H.A.B.I.T. has over 400 members, over 250 of these being active volunteers involved in our 70 different programs.
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