One by one, third-grade readers each recently had an opportunity to share with Dr. Dan Lommell and his therapy dog, Noel, why they loved reading to them.

One by one, third-grade readers each recently had an opportunity to share with Dr. Dan Lommell and his therapy dog, Noel, why they loved reading to them.

The event was a “Celebration of Learning” for the students in the third-grade classroom of Taylor Woods at Millikin Elementary School.

Each student received a certificate of achievement for their accomplishments in improving their reading skills, and Woods believes the visits from Lommell and Noel added greatly to the success of the third-grade readers.

Dr. Lommell and Noel have been visiting the students and listening to them read for 30 minutes each week during this school year.

In the beginning of the school year, the third-grade team of teachers and aides at Millikin School worked to identify the students they felt would benefit from the additional opportunity and extra support in reading.

It was school principal Sarah Boone and first-grade teacher Sara Stroud who introduced Woods to using the therapy dog to improve the reading skills of her students.

Over the course of the year, 17 students were able to reap the benefits of Noel and Dr. Dan’s visits,” Woods said. “Oral fluency is as important as a foundational skill in reading and helps build reading comprehension. Reading aloud to Noel motivates and encourages our struggling readers. Building their confidence can be half the battle.”

She explained oral fluency as using expression, pausing at punctuation, reading rate and accuracy.

“We used poetry, reader’s theaters, as well as stories when working with Noel,” she said. “Sometimes, student would read their own writing to Noel and Dr. Dan.”

Data was recorded and analyzed over the course of the school year and indicated “impressive” gains by the students in helping to propel them to where they need to be for fourth grade, she said, and added the students are expected to grow four reading levels during the course of their third-grade year.

“We expect students to come in at an ‘M’ and leave us at a ‘P, our scale used as a guide to measure progress in reading ability,” Woods said.

She said the at-risk readers that participated in the reading group were able to grow, on average eight words per minute, and improved their accuracy by an average of 4.7 percent. The highest improvement was by 34 words per minute, with a 10 percent increase in accuracy.

There were six students in the program who “graduated” to the extent that the team didn’t think they needed the extra support after nine weeks of the school year.

Lommell is a chiropractic orthopedist in Geneseo and a police officer in Atkinson and also volunteers in the Geneseo School District. His dog, Noel, is a Samoyed which Woods said is a breed that “is very intelligent, hard working, and is known for their infectious ‘Sammy Smile’ that our students look forward to seeing each week. They are hypoallergenic dogs, making them a safe addition to any classroom.”