VIDEO: SitStayRead improves its “reading-to-dogs” literacy program

By Courtney Dillard

Man’s best friend can also make a pretty good reading teacher. At least according to SitStayRead, a literacy program in Chicago Public Schools. It uses dogs to help kids improve their reading skills by having young people read books aloud to patient canine listeners.

Jamese Linton, a second grader at Milton Burson Math and Science Specialty School enjoys the weekly visits of the dogs each Wednesday. “We get to read, we get to write,” she said. “We always get to pet the dogs and give the dogs treats.”

This year the organization is partnering with Loyola University to introduce new curricula for its first-through-fourth grade programs.

In 2013, SitStayRead evaluated the success of the program in fluency, comprehension and written expression with the help of Loyola. They found that participating students improved their fluency scores at a rate 47.8 percent greater than students who did not participate in the program. But they also found the program did not impact written expression and comprehension scores.

This year they plan to introduce a new comprehension-based version of their second grade program. They are also piloting ten-week programs in their third and fourth grade classrooms.

“Our hope is that by next year we will have weekly dog visits in every grade that we serve from first through fourth grade, “said Kate McIlvain, SitStayRead’s program director.

The idea for SitStayRead started eleven years ago when MaryEllen Schneider and Sarah Murphy took their dogs to a local library to read with kids. They realized they could bring the program directly to students in low-income communities.

“What they found was that kids coming to the library with their parents had the type of resources to be around books,” said McIlvain. “So they thought maybe we could take the idea directly into school classrooms where students don’t have the same resources.”

SitStayRead is now in 13 Chicago Public Schools and serves more than two thousand students each year.

“I’ve noticed a love and an excitement for reading as well as writing,” said Cozette Wendemu, a second grade teacher at Milton Brunson School in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. “Some of the students are really shy when it comes to speaking. They’ve become more vocal as a result of working with SitStayRead.”

SitStayRead plans to introduce the new program at a few schools later this year. If it is successful, students can expect new curricula at all participating schools next year.