Monday, Sept. 26, 2011 | 2 a.m.
In a small room filled with pillows and blankets at the Gibson Library in Henderson, 9-year-old Caitlyn Cooks and 6-year-old Peaches snuggle together and read a book.
Caitlyn is a fourth-grader at Gordon McCaw Elementary School. Peaches is a golden retriever and certified therapy dog.
The two are part of the Henderson Libraries’ Reading with Rover program, which pairs students with tutors and therapy dogs to improve their reading skills.
Caitlyn meets once a week at the library with Peaches and her owner, Shannon McLemore, a retired special education teacher, and together they read, write and laugh.
“Let’s look at one of the words. How would you say that?” McLemore says as she coaches Caitlyn through the book “Puppy Place.” “Good job,” she says as Caitlyn sounds out the word. “That’s a hard one.”
The Reading with Rover program was started at the library 12 years ago, and is now offered at three branches, helping hundreds of children each year.
Marcie Smedley, head of the Youth Services Department at Gibson, said the program is designed to create a low-pressure environment for kids who struggle with reading, are learning English as a second language or have confidence issues reading in school.
“It helps them build confidence in their reading skills by putting them in an environment where there’s nobody there to judge them,” Smedley said. “The dog is very receptive to what they’re doing. It’s happy to listen to them. It gives them that boost so they can improve their reading skills without the fear of being ridiculed.”
On a recent Tuesday, Caitlyn and McLemore read two books together and then played games to build reading comprehension.
“It gets pretty boring if she’s just sitting there reading the whole time. You’ve got to make it fun,” McLemore said.
At the end of the 45-minute session, Caitlyn gets to pick out a sticker and a bookmark to take home. She also writes a journal entry on a topic of her choosing, an element that was added to the program to foster writing skills.
Caitlyn is an animal lover and has two dogs at home. Both books she read during her session were puppy-themed.
“I love to read with dogs,” she said. “It’s easier. Peaches is a really good listener.”
Caitlyn’s mother, Kimberly, said the program has helped spark an interest in reading in her daughter.
“I’ve noticed she enjoys it more. I used to have to ask her to pick out a book to read,” Kimberly Cooks said. “Now she comes up to me and tells me about the books she’s been reading.”
Cooks heard about the program while visiting the library with her four children. She said she spends a lot of time there, and her 7-year-old son is also involved with Reading with Rover.
“It’s a really great program that a lot of parents don’t know about,” she said.
The program is open to children in grades 1-5, and is funded mostly through grants. Children must be nominated for the program by a teacher, parent or caregiver.
The free program consists of two six-week sessions of individual reading with a tutor, but students are allowed to re-enroll if they need more help.
For more information, visit the library’s website or any Henderson Libraries branch.