How to help struggling students? NYC’s Comfort Dog Program might unleash some answers

How to help struggling students? NYC’s Comfort Dog Program might unleash some answers

Literacy coach Meredith Loftus sometimes has a special helper for her phonics lessons with struggling readers at P.S. 70 in the South Bronx. 

Chip, a 1.5-year-old shih-poo (poodle/Shih Tzu mix), joined her on Thursday, as she worked with a small group of third graders as they sounded out words with digraphs, two letters that sound like one, such as “wh,” “sh,” “ch,” and “th.” 

Chip used his nose to toss a large die with a word on each side, and it landed on “shoulder.” Then a student read the word and instructed Chip to pick a bucket with the corresponding digraph. 

Getting students excited about being pulled out of their regular classroom to work on phonics can be a struggle — particularly this year, when pandemic-related learning disruptions have left some kids lagging several years behind. But having the dogs helps make it more fun, said Kirsten Kinsella, P.S. 70’s former assistant principal, who now leads the New York City education department’s Comfort Dog Program. 

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