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Therapy dogs helping students at Randall Middle School excel in reading

Every Friday a special employee enters the halls of Randall Middle School ready to make a difference in students’ lives.

His name is Brewster! He’s a golden retriever on a mission to help students improve their reading skills.

Randall’s school counselor Valerie Richards is Brewster’s owner.  Together they visit several classrooms, where Brewster is unleashed to “work the room.”

As students learn the lesson of the day, he spends his time comforting every person in the room.

Some students spend a little more time hugging and petting Brewster than others.

“Brewster gives them the confidence to read,” said Ms. Richards. “He puts them in a no-judgement zone, so if they mess up they can feel comfortable to continue and learn from the mistakes.”

In the 2009-2010 school year, Richards introduced “Reading Therapy Dogs” to the students.

It started with her first golden retriever, Sundance, who would visit one-on-one with readers. After two years of working, Sundance passed away.

Then came Brie, Gypsy Rose and now Brewster.

As time went on, more students wanted time with Brewster, so he now stops in several classrooms and makes appearances in the courtyard. This way he reaches more people.

“Teachers would like for him to go to all the classrooms but with my schedule, it doesn’t always happen,” said Richards.

Sixth grader Aubrey Hastings always looks forward to Friday so she can see her four-legged friend!

“While you’re working, you can play with him and it helps relax you and takes your mind off stressing about your work,” said Hastings.

According to Richards, since the program started, scores in the Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) have improved with students who had previously struggled.

For that reason, Randall was honored with the “Celebrate Literacy” award for their work with students.

“Brewster just makes the whole mood in the classroom better,” said Hastings. “The fact that they’re letting us do something else instead of just straight paperwork is fun.”

“It’s soothing just to pet him because his fur is so soft,” said sixth grader Brody Pcina.

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