Ivan Morrow was nervous the first time he read to Molly. The 7-year-old Spokane boy had never read aloud to anyone.
“Now it’s easier,” Ivan said.
It helps that Molly, a 9-year-old German shepherd, is a good listener.
Molly and her handler, Karen Faddis, started visiting Holmes Elementary School five years ago as part of a program to build young readers’ confidence.
“I had been taking her to the nursing home for several years,” Faddis said. “But I really liked children’s books, and to read to children, and wondered if I could take my dog to school.”
Faddis qualified Molly for a program called Reading Education Assistance Dogs, or READ. The two visit the school twice a week to work with four Holmes second-graders who need more reading confidence, said Robin Fiorillo, Spokane Public Schools volunteer and special events specialist.
“Molly sits between them, and it helps put them at ease,” Fiorillo said. Faddis works closely with teachers to gauge students’ progress, she said.
Reading to Molly helps students who doubt their own abilities, second-grade teacher Bonnie Mendoza said.
Faddis tells them, “Molly believes you can do it,” Mendoza said, and the children keep trying.
“Over the year with them, the kids blossom, not just in reading, but in other areas too,” Mendoza said. “Our kids have truly benefited from it.”
Faddis said the reading program is “a perk” for the children who participate. “The dog never criticizes if they don’t get a word right. They aren’t being graded. Reading to Molly helps them relax,” she said.
The other students and staff seem to like Molly’s visits, too. A few keep dog biscuits on hand for her.
Faddis said the only downside is the limited number of students who can participate. But the volunteer figured out a way to help other children feel included.
Second-grade students can leave letters for Molly in an envelope provided for each classroom. Faddis answers them, writing in the dog’s voice.
Spokane Public Schools last week gave Molly and Faddis an Outstanding Volunteer award. Ten to 12 volunteers out of about 13,000 receive the districtwide award each year. “A dog has never been nominated before,” Fiorillo noted.
Faddis was humble about the recognition.
“I know a lot of people that volunteer, and do a lot more than I do,” she said. “I get to take my dog to school, and sit in the corner and read books with kids. How hard is that?”