Olivia, The Four-Legged Teachers Assistant: Fresno Bully Column

Feb 21, 2015 | 2015 Articles, Animal Rescue Adventures

by Stacey Walls

Stacey Walls is a volunteer with the Fresno Bully Rescue. FBR shares some of their animal rescue adventures every other month.

As a long-time Fresno Bully Rescue volunteer and a kindergarten teacher, I have always looked for an opportunity to combine my passions. This past school year proposed such an opportunity! As part of a student-run project earlier in the school year, we were researching which animals might make a great class pet along with what would be needed to care for that pet. Of course some of my students suggested that a dog would be a fun class pet, so I asked Fresno Bully Rescue to visit my classroom with a shelter dog.



I knew that bringing in a shelter dog from FBR would give my students the opportunity to be exposed to a breed that they may have never come in contact with or had a positive experience with. When the day came for our visit, forty, five year old kids piled in to my classroom, anxiously waiting for our guest. Olivia, an adoptable dog who resides at FBR, entered the room with a huge smile and a wiggly rear! For most of my students, this was the biggest dog they had ever met and were of course a little hesitant.

After our introduction to Olivia and a presentation about the responsibilities of dog ownership, my students had the opportunity to meet and pet her (if they chose). As each student met Olivia, it was clear that she was enjoying the attention. She took pets willingly, gave many kisses and even laid on the ground for belly rubs. As the line of students came to an end, I noticed that one student had stayed back because she was too afraid to approach Olivia. She had stood to the side and watched every child go through the greeting line but was not confident enough to join in by herself. With some gentle coaxing and holding my hand, she eventually caved and asked to pet Olivia right on the head. Olivia sat obediently, understood her hesitation and quickly eased her fears. After that visit, my students continued to talk about how much they loved meeting Miss Olivia!

I have nineteen students in my kindergarten class and as any teacher would tell you, I struggle to motivate my kids to do the hard work they refuse to do – aside, of course, from the handful of students always willing and ready to exceed my expectations. Our morning routine consists of center rotations of twenty minute centers. One of the daily centers is using an internet-based reading program independently. The program teaches and re-teaches based on the student’s current level, assesses and provides immediate feedback to the teacher for intervention and assistance. Because of the daily implementation of this program, we’ve been able to eliminate some of our reading assessments. dog

As usual four to five of my students took off with success, but the remaining fifteen or so struggled with initial computer and mouse use. Once the kinks were all ironed out I had about six students really making progress. After a while, I realized that some of my higher-level kids were not taking the program seriously enough to buckle down and stay focused for that incredibly long (for kindergarteners) twenty minutes. Awards, celebrations and stickers did nothing to motivate. I needed to find something else to help motivate my students. I needed bait!

I had heard of the success with programs available in many libraries across the state where students were able to read to dogs. The main objective of these programs is to provide a relaxed atmosphere, which allows students to practice the skill of reading, while in a comfortable and non-judgmental environment. Student’s self-esteem and reading skills greatly improve while having fun at the same time!

So, I gave my students a goal to reach and if they met that date required, they could choose two books from our classroom to read to a pet. Quickly, they demanded that it was not just going to be any pet, but that it had to be Miss Olivia! After my superintendent’s approval and two fabulous FBR volunteers had agreed to drive another hour down to see us, my plan was in the works! dog

Suddenly, my students were racing each other to the computers, asking to use it during “Free Choice” time, and even wanting to use it at home! I saw huge improvements in their phonemic awareness, blending, sight word recognition and even their writing. They were eager to learn and motivated to improve. When the time line came to a finish, thirteen of my nineteen students were awarded the opportunity to read to Olivia! For almost two hours, Olivia sat in her little reading nook and listened attentively as students rotated through and read their books.

This year we have a new goal now and another reading date set. The success of Olivia’s visit has implemented a new and improved learning experience for my students. We’re just hoping Olivia is willing to come back and listen – unless, she finds her forever home before then!

Side note: after much research the class decided a goldfish was the only class pet they could be responsible for.

Be sure to visit www.fresnobullyrescue.org to see all of the dogs looking for their forever homes.

Check out more animal rescue stories in our Pet Perspective section. Advertise in KRL and 10% of your advertising fees can go to Fresno Bully Rescue.

Stacey Walls has been a teacher for five years, two years a kindergarten teacher. She volunteers with Fresno Bully Rescue and has recently joined the Shelter Enrichment Program. This involves working closely with the residents at Fresno Bully rescue training and socializing.


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