Almost everyone likes dogs—the cuddling, the love. SitStayRead, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the love of learning and improving literacy proficiency for at-risk kids, capitalizes on that idea.

Dogs allow SitStayRead (SSR) to tackle the sobering issue of childhood literacy with a positive spin: they address reading fluency in a fun way by incorporating reading assistance dogs into the program.

Their innovative approach to reading fluency has shown remarkable results. Classrooms enhanced by SSR’s volunteers—canine as well as human—have shown significant improvement on assessment tests.

According to SSR’s 2014 Annual Report, children in the program are making 47.8 percent greater fluency gains than peers who aren’t participating, a very impressive statistic. Services are provided gratis to public schools and community centers that focus on the needs of low-income Chicago families.

Volunteer Coordinator Lena McCain’s favorite SSR moment came in a second grade classroom at Chicago’s Manierre Elementary , when one of the students in the class at first refused to participate in the program. The child acted out during the first two visits, talking out of turn and turning her back on the group.

But by the third visit, “I watched her slowly become interested in what we as a class were doing and asking for my help,” says McCain. “[She] began to open up about not wanting to read or write because it was hard for her, and that if she didn’t have a lot of help, she wouldn’t be able to do it at all.” By the final visit, the young girl was able to write her own story, and was so proud of her accomplishment that she was beaming with happiness.

Kate Mcilvain, SSR’s director of program operations, knows the program is also beneficial to the canine “volunteers.” Her own dog, Lucy, is a rescue dog with a troubled past. “It has been my absolute pleasure to watch her grow through these classes from a nervous dog afraid to even go into the building where our classes take place, to a confident thrill seeker eager to run in and join her classmates,” she says.

Kids love interacting with the dogs: reading to (and about) them, petting them, loving them. All assignments are dog-themed, so this unique experience leads to lasting learning for the kids. The 192 human volunteers are special, too, and served over 2000 students in 76 classrooms in 2014. New programs for 2015 will address reading comprehension and written expression, and incorporate “our two hallmark traits: dogs and fun!”

SitStayRead By The Numbers:

  • 2,021 children served in 76 classrooms, visited by 192 volunteers and 60 dogs
  • 18,784 books read in program last year
  • Children in the program make 47.8 percent greater fluency gains than their non-participating peers

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