Several students at Liberty Elementary read one-on-one to Gus, the Ottumwa High School therapy dog, Thursday morning. According to two student readers, Gus likes to listen to books about dogs and learned a lot of weird but true facts.
The activity was made possible by Jen Chesnut, Gus’ trainer. Chesnut, an OHS science teacher, needed elementary practicum hours as part of completing her K-12 library endorsement. After arranging the time with the district, she offered teachers the opportunity to participate and send students to the media center to read.
Jakobe Hall, third grade, was one lucky reader. He didn’t know he was reading with Gus until he arrived in the media center. “It was fun,” said Hall. “He actually sits and listens.” Hall noted that Gus wagged his tail to show he liked the book being read.
Another third grader, Jensen Miner, read “Weird But True!” to Gus. The book featured a variety of interesting facts. Miner’s favorite fact was that robots help perform heart surgery. “Gus liked that fact, too,” Miner said. All readers received a “Gus” bookmark.
Media specialist, Stacy Moran, hopes the activity gets kids more excited about reading. “Encouraging students to read is part of my role,” she said. She hopes students learn that reading is fun, not just work. She tries to read every book in the school collection so she can help guide young readers to books that interest them. Some books, like “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” fly off the shelves. The books quickly become torn and worn due to use, a good problem when trying to encourage students to read for pleasure. “You need to know your collection so you can get students interested,” she said.
“I hope this shows the students that reading is fun,” said Molly Kopatich, a third grade teacher at Liberty. “I also hope this helps them be confident in their reading, because Gus is a great listener.”
Chesnut also volunteers with Gus on Tuesday evenings at the Ottumwa Public Library. Children interested in reading with Gus can stop by and share a book with the furry listener. She hopes the experience will motivate more students to read to their pets at home. “Some of the students mentioned they had never thought to read to their dog,” she said. One student shared, “my dog won’t listen!”
The activity was meaningful, according to Moran. “Just to see the kids light up . . .it was about reading, not about petting the dog.”
Bookmarks feature pictures of Gus.