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Glen Cove students read with furry friends

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To boost their students’ confidence in reading, the Glen Cove City School District launched is Pick A Reading Partner program 29 years ago. The PARP program connects students with members of the community for a special reading session where they read some of their favorite books to one another.

As the program thrived and evolved throughout the years, a new reiteration of it hit the Connolly Elementary School as students and faculty celebrated the inaugural Paws for PARP event, which allowed students to read with therapy dogs from Bidawee, a pet welfare agency that operates in Long Island and New York City. 

“We’re always looking for ways to get the kids invested in reading,” said Danielle Callahan, the school’s reading teacher. “When the kids came in to see the dogs, they were beaming. One of them couldn’t stop smiling.” 

As the kids circled around the dogs and their owners, they enjoyed about a half hour of petting the dogs as they each took time to read a book they had chosen for the occasion. Teachers from 19 classes in the school chose three students to participate in the Paws for PARP event in the school library. Callahan and her partner, ELA teacher Dora Ricciardi, said the event fosters self-confidence in students as they read in front of the receptive animals.   

Rob Flower, one of the dog owners, agreed with Ricciardi and said reading with dogs could influence a child’s relationship with reading for the better. Flower, 61, of Glen Cove, said he and his dog, Chester, have been volunteering with Bidawee for a year and a half, which was six months after they moved to Glen Cove. The duo had to complete a six-week course, complete with a final exam, through Bidawee for Chester to earn his qualification as a therapy dog, but Flower said it was worth it to be able to give back to the local community. Through Bidawee, Flower and Chester have volunteered all over the North Shore, and Flower added that he was impressed with Chester’s ability to lend an ear to children who wanted to improve their reading skills. 

“He doesn’t dodge them when they’re reading,” Flower said. “It doesn’t matter if they get a word wrong or make a mistake. All that matters is that they’re building confidence and enjoying a good book.” 

Richard Penchuk, another dog owner from Jericho, said he also glad to help the students at Connolly. He and his dog, Josie, have been with Bidawee for a year, and they do three-to-four events a week with the organization. As the students enjoyed reading with Josie, she and Penchuk surprised them with a trick as Josie leapt high off the ground on Penchuk’s command.   

“Kids really open up to dogs,” Penchuk said. “You can really make a big difference in people’s lives through this kind of work. These kinds of events are great for kids, especially those who don’t have pets.” 

The Paws for PARP program is just one of several events taking place in the district this year through the PARP program. Earlier in the month, the elementary school students held a logo design contest to kick off the 2020 PARP program. Landing School fifth graders Milo Walthers and Trenton Enrile, along with Connolly School fifth grader Antonio Martino, won the contest with their logo based on this year’s theme, “Reading is my Superpower.” Along with the design contest, students at Connolly also held a vocabulary parade as students dressed up a word and marched around their school. 

Callahan and Ricciardi added that one of the student’s favorite events in the PARP program is the principal’s challenge, where students compete against School Principal Julie Mullan to see who can read the most. Students log their reading time each day throughout the given deadline, and should a student beat Mullan, she has to do something fun for them. 

“The goal of the PARP program is to ultimately help expand student’s interest in literature,” Ricciardi said. “They go out and find books they love and, hopefully, the experience helps them grow.”