Dog gives third graders a ‘Harry’ good time reading

Ella Harrell, Independence Elementary third grader, reads alongside Harry during a recent Thursday therapy dog session at the school. Photo by Matt Mackinder

BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Staff Writer

Jamie Skorna’s third grade class at Independence Elementary School is going to the dogs.
Or rather, dog.
Since the start of the current school year, Harry, a certified therapy dog, has visited Skorna’s class on Thursdays to help the students with reading. Jeni Dougherty, whose daughter, Violet, is in the class, brings Harry much to the delight of the students.
Having Harry with the students has been a benefit on numerous levels.
“He rotates each week so that everyone gets a chance with him,” said Skorna. “Students are always super excited when it’s their turn. It’s been really cool to see how all students respond, even students who can be hesitant sometimes to read with others and who might need that little pick-me-up that day and that motivation to kind of get them going.
“It’s been really powerful to see the kids go out in the hall and light up and have that smile, which has been super cool to see.”
Dougherty loves seeing the students improve in their reading skills on a weekly basis.
“I saw a girl one time really struggling, feeling unsure, really nervous, and I literally told her to give Harry a little love, just give him a little pet,” Dougherty said. “And she did that for a few minutes, just petting him, and I don’t know if it was her just not thinking so much any more about her struggles reading, but things just came to her. It was kind of just like a magic touch and she just didn’t struggle so much anymore.”
Students in Skorna’s class love seeing Harry each Thursday.

Jamie Skorna’s third grade class at Independence Elementary School enjoys having Harry (bottom row, far left) in class every Thursday. Photo by Matt Mackinder

Sloane Oliver said, “Harry sits on my lap and he is so cuddly and makes me calm when I read.”
Julien Mohr added, “I like Harry because when you are reading with him, he makes you calm down.”
Anthony Ventimiglia called Harry “a really good reading partner because he sits and listens while I’m reading all my good books.”
Parker Hemsworth said she thinks “it’s really special we get a dog every Thursday so we can snuggle with him while we read.”
Violet Dougherty said, “I feel like Harry is always listening to me when I read to him,” while Jamin Kuhnie made the classroom laugh when he said, “I like Harry because he’s not like my dog when he just runs around everywhere. I think it’s a good privilege because not every classroom in the school gets to have a dog.”
Cyrianna Cummings noted Harry “actually listens to you” and if she reads to her dog at home, “he’ll just walk away. Harry doesn’t, and he listens.”
Aidan Harpster commented that “I’m really comfortable when I’m reading with (Harry) and he makes me feel happy and want to read more.”
To become an official therapy dog, Harry, who Dougherty estimated to be around 10 years old, went through Therapy Dogs International for his training and testing.
“He kind of had the temperament from day one that he was going to do OK,” said Dougherty. “He went through a two-hour, very intensive test that looked at how he was with kids and kids running around him, how he did with a wheelchair, someone with a walker so we could go to a nursing home or a hospital, leaving treats, listening to me when I tell him to ‘sit’ or ‘stay there.’
“He passed the test the first time. He’s meant to be this way.”
Skorna reiterated how much Harry has meant to her classroom.

Harry has many friends in Jamie Skorna’s third grade class. Photo by Matt Mackinder

“From the beginning of the year to now, there has been an increase in confidence, when reading with me, even,” she said. “(Last Wednesday), we did some reading testing with the students and just seeing how in the beginning, they were quieter and not as strong and a little bit cautious, having that time with Harry and building that confidence, I’ve seen that pride that comes with reading to others.”