Dr. Judy Ziffer, a guidance counselor at Cypress Elementary and Cyrus' handler, said the program, Cyrus Assisting Reading Education, is the only known one of its kind in the area.
Cyrus, who is 4 years old, also is a service dog, and is one of eight Newfoundland dogs that live with Ziffer
.Cyrus is also an international champion, can pull a cart and is currently training in water rescue.
Each Wednesday, about a dozen third-graders identified as those who need additional help improving their reading skills are plucked from the school's four third-grade classes and sit around a large rectangular table in the media center and read books while patting Cyrus who stretches out atop the table.The club meets for 40 minutes before leaving to make way for the fourth- and fifth-grade classes that follow.
"For most, English is not their first language - that's a lot to accomplish by (the age of) 8 or 9," Ziffer
The majority of the children in the program are considered "at-risk" of completing their current grade level and progressing to the next grade.
"The idea is for children to become interested in reading around a subject of interest," Ziffer
said."We use him in many different ways - to motivate kids and for kids having a particularly rough time.Children also talk about how (Cyrus) makes them feel better."
While helping struggling readers improve is the top concern for the CARE
program, educators also hope the extra reading time will help students improve their FCAT skills while gaining self-confidence.Ziffer
said petting Cyrus while the children read also helps the children calm their nerves.
very easy going and has a calming effect.Research indicates that dogs preserve a non-judgmental presence - they won't criticize while they read.Those that are nervous usually touch the dog to calm themselves," Ziffer
said the program also stresses the care that dogs require and how people have the same needs, and how to treat living things with respect.Pet overpopulation also is addressed during the club sessions.
"Our hope is that all of this will create an excitement and interest in reading," Ziffer