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A Golden Opportunity: Retrievers visit Clarksville schools to help students learn to read

Posted at 3:32 PM, Feb 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-21 20:17:42-05

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — For a lot of students, reading out loud in front of a teacher or the rest of the class, is the stuff of nightmares. But at West Creek Elementary in Clarksville, a special assistant is bringing a "golden" opportunity to put students at ease.

Kim Bellamy is a volunteer with Pet Partners, a group that uses therapy dogs in a variety of life experiences. Bellamy focuses on K-12 students in Clarksville. She started bringing in Charlie, Skiff and Penny about four years ago. They're there mainly to listen to students, learning to read to words. "They’re just more confident, more relaxed. The dog doesn’t judge," says Bellamy.

As the students navigate tricky consonants, the dogs also provide comfort. Kim says, you would be amazed to know what a fist full of fur means to a student struggling to read. "Kids who might be shy or nervous, it’s even a good ice breaker. They’ll talk about the dog, ask about the dog when they normally might not talk a whole lot to someone they don’t know," she says.

Kim says the most rewarding part has been watching students she's worked with in the past, become confident, carnivorous readers. "To see them progress from 4th grade to 8th grade and the changes that they’ve made personally and educationally, is so rewarding," says Bellamy.

The accomplishments also wag the tails of their proud teachers. "We have seen some students come in reading 5 words a minute, and are leaving 100 words a minute," says Karma Sherk, a teacher at West Creek Elementary.

"Some of our students are very shy, they’re very quiet readers and when they get to go to the dog, there’s no judgment about how loud you are," says Iris Camacho, another teacher at West Creek.

Over the last four years, Kim Bellamy has visited schools in Clarksville more than 140 times and has no plans of slowing down any time soon.