by Lisa Tome
Sophie and Marshall were back in the classroom last week having started the school year a few days later than the rest of the students in Cecil.
The pair were in Jennifer Anderson's third grade classroom at North East Elementary School and they arrived just in time for reading class.
Sophie and Marshall, more formerly known as Marshall Tucker, are dogs.
More specifically they are part of Karma Dogs, a Baltimore-based organization which uses rescued dogs to teach children to read. Children rushed to grab books and settled in next to the dogs reading to them.
"It helps to promote reading especially for those who are not confident or have difficulty. Reading to the dogs helps them be more confident with reading," explained Anderson. "We see an increase in attendance when (the class) knows they are coming. The dogs are non-judgmental. Karma Dogs work with at risk children trying to help those who are struggling to read or who are not reading at grade level."
While the Karma Dogs were in a third grade class last week, all students in the school rotate in and out, having the opportunity to read to the dogs. The program is so popular and has been so well received, that an additional dog reading program will also be at North East Elementary this year.
The school's principal, Lisa Lowe explained that the dog program is just one of many innovative programs that the school is using to reach its students. Lowe outlined some of these programs for the North East Rotary Club on September 9.
The school's population has grown this year. And a majority of the students, more than 70 percent qualify for free and reduced lunch programs. The entire school also receives breakfast each day. Tackling these problems means meeting needs other than education.
"What happens away from here affects them. Kids can't learn if they are not fed, if they are not safe, and if there is not trust," said Lowe. Lowe and other school staff have been studying the neuroscience of the brain of a child who lives in poverty or unsafe conditions. In some instances, a part of the brain stops functioning fully.
The school has also adopted the philosophy of sending home positive feedback. They are also working to make parents feel more welcome in the building, are having student-led conferences, there is 20 minutes of vigorous physical play for all students daily, there is in class yoga, and more. For meals, the focus is food with higher protein and fewer carbs to feed the brain.
Within the school, there will be an emphasis on creating after school learning circles for STEM, Destination Imagination, chess, physical fitness, fine arts, literature, and more.
North East and Bay View Elementary already have a monthly Maryland Food Bank food distribution which alternates between the two schools. During this time, there is already a book distribution that will be expanded to include a clothing swap, and safety information distribution. There will also be a 10-week Strengthening Families evening program.