Martha Speaks Reading Buddies Newsletter
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The MARTHA SPEAKS Reading Buddies Program combines two of our very favorite things: reading and dogs! This month, learn about Intermountain Therapy Animals, an organization that also brings reading and dogs together; meet a R.E.A.D.® therapy team; and tune in to new MARTHA SPEAKS episodes featuring the arts. In this issue you will find:

In the Spotlight: Intermountain Therapy Animals
Classroom Tips: Bark about books!
Pup Tales: Meet a Therapy Team
More Fun with Martha: Sit, Stay, Watch! and an Atlanta Event
Links & Books: Useful Web Sites and Recommended Reading

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Intermountain Therapy Animals

Thanks to Intermountain Therapy Animals (ITA), reading is for the dogs! ITA is a non-profit organization that provides animal-assisted therapy for adults and children struggling with physical, learning, social, occupational, and mental health difficulties. With a mission to enhance quality of life through the human-animal bond, it’s no wonder ITA’s motto is "Pets Helping People."

One of ITA’s most well known endeavors is Reading Education Assistance Dogs, or the R.E.A.D.® program, which helps children improve their literacy skills by using registered therapy teams (usually a dog and the dog’s owner) as literacy mentors. Dogs make excellent reading companions for children because they help lower anxiety levels, never judge or laugh, and listen attentively. By reducing the stress often associated with reading, struggling readers are able to improve their skills and develop a love of reading.

R.E.A.D.® therapy teams are highly trained volunteers offering services in schools, libraries, and other institutions. We recommend connecting with your local ITA teams as part of your MARTHA SPEAKS Reading Buddies Program.

Watch a video to learn more about ITA and see the R.E.A.D.® program in action.


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Bark about books!

In addition to inviting a therapy team to your classroom or school, here are a few more ways to combine the appeal of animals with reading:

•    Set up a comfy reading space or corner (you may already have one in your classroom).
      Kids can take turns visiting the space and reading to Martha or another stuffed animal.

•    Suggest that kids try reading to their pet or to a stuffed animal at home.
•    Teach kids about other working dogs.

•    Invite a police officer, firefighter, or other community member who uses a dog in his
      or her work to introduce their dog helper.
•    Have kids write stories or complete journal entries on topics such as
      Why I Love My Pet
(or Martha or a stuffed animal).

Even if you have already completed the MARTHA SPEAKS Reading Buddies Program, buddies can continue to work and read together through the remainder of the school year. Have older kids read other dog-related books to their buddies. Provide incentives, such as dog bone-shaped cards that buddies can fill out together. Display the cards on a class bulletin board.

Here are a few books about dogs and reading to consider:
•    Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates
•    How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills
•    Henry the Dog with No Tail by Kate Feiffer
•    Stetson: Street Dog of Park City by Jeanine Heil


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Meet a Therapy Team

Theresa McKinney and her dogs keep busy working on dog training programs, getting certified in Canine Water Therapy, and volunteering as a certified R.E.A.D.® therapy team. Theresa lives in New Mexico, and has worked for the Department of Rio Rancho Public Schools for 16 years.

What kind of dog do you have?
I have three beautiful dogs, two yellow Labradors, Jesse and James, and my golden retriever, Doc Holliday. Jesse and Doc Holliday (pictured above) are my registered Therapy/ R.E.A.D.® dogs. Jesse was my pioneer in our TALES of JOY R.E.A.D.® program (TALES of JOY is an associate program registered with Intermountain Therapy Animals) and began in January 2006 with our pilot program. Doc Holliday began working as my second TALES of JOY R.E.A.D.® dog this past summer in our local library programs.

How did you get involved in ITA and the R.E.A.D.® Program?
I began attending local dog training classes in August 2005 with my Labs. My classmates and our trainer expressed interest in participating in a local therapy dog group, so I did some research and came across the ITA R.E.A.D.® website! I was just thrilled because this program incorporated my two loves: therapy dogs and children, and in particular reading with school children!

What kind of training did you and your dog have to go through?
The order of training is: Basic Obedience, Beyond Basic Obedience, American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen certification, Therapy Dogs Incorporated registration, and finally the R.E.A.D.® process. It was wonderful to work with a group of handlers and dogs that all had the same goal in mind. We quickly became friends throughout the process and supported each other along the way.

Because we work closely with schools and children, the program requires fingerprints and background checks for all of our TALES of JOY R.E.A.D.® teams. Our members wear group t-shirts, have their R.E.A.D.® IDs, and their dogs wear their respective ID tags as well. Several of our dogs wear vests and/or the red bandanna that designate them as a therapy dog.

Where do you typically volunteer?

Our TALES of JOY R.E.A.D.® program is very active within our schools and local libraries, as well as nursing homes and the general community. I personally volunteer with my dogs twice a week at two of our elementary schools and twice a month at our two local libraries. In addition, I do Child/Dog safety presentations for our afterschool programs. We currently have 14 TALES of JOY R.E.A.D.® teams volunteering in 7 of our 10 elementary schools, working with approximately 67 students!

How does the R.E.A.D.® program work in a school environment?
My position in the Rio Rancho Public Schools district office provides the perfect opportunity to coordinate our TALES of JOY R.E.A.D.® program. Working in our Assessment department, I see firsthand the results of our student testing and realize the need in our schools for professional, proven, consistent reading intervention programs. And the R.E.A.D.® program works!

Since our program began in January 2006, we have continued to volunteer with the same teachers each year. As we add new members to our TALES of JOY R.E.A.D.® program we are able to volunteer with more teachers and students. Each participating student is selected by his or her teacher, based on need. Our teams volunteer with the same students on a weekly basis. Each student will read aloud to “his or her” TALES of JOY R.E.A.D.® dog for 20 or 30 minutes (the length of time depends upon the age/grade/ability of the student).

Typically, R.E.A.D.® sessions take place in a quiet corner of the school library. Most of our teams do their R.E.A.D.® sessions on the floor with their dog and student. I prefer to have my dog between me and the student, so the student can reach out and pet the dog as they read. Some kids “scootch” down and use the dog as a pillow, some will rest their book on the dog as they read. Both Jesse and Doc Holliday have been known to “scootch” in close and lay their head in the student’s lap. Each dog forms a unique bond with each student and it is amazing to witness a dog and a child growing to trust and love each other!

What are the benefits of using ITA and R.E.A.D.®?

The presence of a therapy dog can bring many benefits to everyone they encounter: children, adults, elderly adults, and hospital patients. The calming presence of a dog or pet is known to lower blood pressure, anxiety levels, and bring about an atmosphere of peace and joy. In our reading intervention program in the Rio Rancho Public schools the data speaks for itself. For the third year in a row ALL of the students our teams work with have maintained or improved their reading levels. We work with both regular education students and students with disabilities and the results are something to be very, very proud of. (View all data reports on our website

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Sit. Stay. Watch!
Watch a preview of February shows where Martha and her friends’ explore opera, classical music, theater, and even Greek myths, while learning words like soprano, quartet, conductor, motivation, and adaptation.

ITA Event in Atlanta
Join Susan Meddaugh, author of MARTHA SPEAKS, at ITA’s exciting weekend of speakers, vendors, networking and more!

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Recommended Links

Susan Meddaugh and ITA
Read interviews with Susan Meddaugh and Martha herself in this copy of the Intermountain Therapy Animals newsletter.

Study Says Dogs Can Help Children Learn to Read – ABC News
Check out this ABC News report on “man’s best friend” helping children improve their reading skills.

Recommended Reading

Hooray for Reading Day! by Margery Cuyler. Simon & Schuster 2008.
Jessica is worried about reading aloud in school until she tried reading to her dog.

Puppy Power by Judy Cox. Holiday House 2008.
Fran loves being a reading buddy, but she is unaware of her pushy behavior. When she takes her Newfoundland puppy to obedience school, Fran and her dog learn valuable lessons about good behavior.

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Corporate funding for MARTHA SPEAKS is provided by Chuck E. Cheese's® and Kiddie Academy® Child Care Learning Centers. Additional funding provided by Jennifer and Steven Walske and by public television viewers. Additional series funding is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and by a cooperative agreement from the U.S. Department of Education’s Ready to Learn Grant. ©2011 WGBH Educational Foundation. All rights reserved. "Martha" and all characters and underlying materials (including artwork) from the "Martha" books are trademarks and copyrights of Susan Meddaugh and used under license. All other characters and underlying materials are trademarks of and copyrights of WGBH. All third party trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Used with permission.

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