MILAN, Illinois – Students at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School are welcoming back a familiar face this year. That student is Finn, a three-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog and a therapy dog for students learning to read.
“I heard about these therapy dogs reading with kids and the premise behind it,” says Finn’s owner, Mary VandeVoorde. “How it just improves their confidence and makes them feel safe in a totally nonjudgmental kind of atmosphere.”
The 94-pound bear of a dog lives with VandeVoorde down the block – making Thomas Jefferson the perfect location for Finn to work.
“It’s a real stressful thing during the school day (learning to read),” says VandeVoorde. “If they have to read out loud in front of a group, if they say a word wrong, they could get laughed at. But Finn doesn’t care, he’s just there – total acceptance.”
Finn relieves stress for students, listens to all age groups, and all types of book genres: poetry, chapter books and picture books.
“Everyone is raising their hand “Is it my turn? Is it my turn to go? Am I the one who get to go?”,” says Olivia Klotz, the school counselor at Thomas Jefferson who schedules students to come read with Finn. “It is something we are blessed to have an hour of time for, but we could keep Finn here all day long, every day of the week and he would be busy.”
No grades, no expectations, just a confidence boost and some joy for the kids.
Finn is a therapy dog at UnityPoint Hospital in Rock Island and Robert Young Medical Health Center and other Quad City area places as well.
He is a certified therapy dog.