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The Suburbanite
  • Furry friend is best audience for new readers at Nolley Elementary School



  • In the halls of Nolley Elementary School, Stewart is greeted by every student he passes. Teachers are tolerant of students even stepping out of line to say hello. Stewart comes to the school every Tuesday and Thursday mornings to encourage reading.

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  • In the halls of Nolley Elementary School, Stewart is greeted by every student he passes. Teachers are tolerant of students even stepping out of line to say hello.
      Stewart is a blue merle sheltie, a service dog for Valerie Slayman, who has multiple sclerosis.  Slayman brings Stewart to the school every Tuesday and Thursday mornings to encourage reading.
    Slayman is a life-long resident of New Franklin. She initiated the program after being contacted to be a part of a reading program in Canton.
    “I thought, why can't I do something here?” she said. “I talked to Mrs. Pappas. She was very receptive and we started the next week.”
    Principal Christina Pappas has been thrilled with the results of the program.
    “It has been amazing,” Pappas said. “It gives the kids something to look forward to. It is especially good for our struggling readers. He can just sit and listen to them. He's not judging them and they are not intimidated.”
    On the days of his visits, Stewart has six time slots. On a chart hanging in the office, teachers will fill in their names next to these slots and when Slayman and Stewart arrive, they visit the classrooms on the chart. Often, the kids will take turns reading to Stewart and are then rewarded by being able to take him for a walk down the hall.
    Sometimes, the teachers plan reading or vocabulary activities around Stewart's classroom visit. Or, sometimes, Stewart is the one surprised with a song from the students. He also regularly receives cards and other crafts from the students. Most students are sure that Stewart can read.
    “They make sure Stewart has his own book to read from so he can follow along,” Slayman said.
    The teachers said they enjoy Stewart not only because he encourages the students to read, but also because he helps motivate them.
     “He listens very attentively, said Jeanie Milleville, an intervention specialist.  “The kids are always asking, 'Is it my turn to read to Stewart?' He's an incentive, and anytime I have an incentive, I am thrilled.”
    Second grader Layloni Thornton, 8, years old, looks forward to the visits.“He's really fun to play with,” Layloni said.
    “When we read to him, he's really fun because he sits there and listens.”
    Fourth grader Kayla Kolasa, 9, also said she is happy and excited when Stewart visits and helps students go over their vocabulary words. Another fourth grader, 9-year-old Owen Sias said Stewart’s visits is tied to classroom behavior.
     “If we don't owe any recess letters for two days.” Owen appreciates Stewart's help with the vocabulary words.
    “He's a cool dog,” third grader Brooklynn Delaney, 8, said. “I've never seen anything like Stewart.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Stewart also stops in regularly in the preschool classroom.
    Student DJ Bensch, 5, who is blind, also gets a chance to walk and hug Stewart.
    Preschool teacher Chris Casto, said Stewart gives students a variety of benefits that go beyond reading.
    “DJ loves Stewart. It gives him an opportunity to interact with an animal one on one,” Casto said. 'Caden (Donahue) is learning patience, being gentle with a dog, and following directions.
    “We (also) have a little girl who is afraid. So she is learning to interact with a dog.”
    Stewart is also attends many after-school functions at Nolley, including music programs. He also attended the last PTA meeting because Laura Marino's second grade class wanted him to see an Earth Day presentation they were performing.
    “I enjoy this,” Slayman said. “People with service dogs become very close to their animal and visa-versa. He's a very good protector and I couldn't ask for anything better.”