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Ginger, the reading dog

Posted: January 25, 2016 5:17 p.m.
Updated: January 26, 2016 1:00 a.m.
Tenell Felder/C-I

L-EHS student Alvin Branham with Ginger.

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This past semester, Lugoff-Elgin High School (L-EHS) added a furry four-legged companion to its community. Eighteen-month-old Ginger knows the way to her room in the L-EHS library where she accompanies her owner, Donna Garber, during some week days. Ginger is a reading dog and patiently sits while students read to her to practice their reading skills. 

“We’ve had her a little over a year,” Garber said of the Golden Retriever. 

Garber said she researched other schools and programs which brought dogs into school environments to interact with students. 

“I’m a reading teacher. I Googled ‘reading dogs,’ and there is a huge group in the upstate near Anderson called Bark. They have about 40 volunteers who go to elementary schools with their dogs one day a week to meet with second graders.”

Garber also said while she doesn’t know of any other county schools with reading dog programs, she heard about reading programs in California. She said reading to a dog can help students who have trouble reading.

“It helps with practicing reading. Some students do not feel comfortable reading out loud, but they read to the dog. It promotes their fluency and confidence. That’s the main thing to build -- fluency and confidence,” Garber said.

Garber also said reading to the dog can decrease pressure a student might feel if reading in front of the class or a teacher.

“The child doesn’t have to feel like anyone is sitting here correcting them or waiting to see if they make a mistake or judging how they are reading … a dog doesn’t care,” she said.

Garber decided to get a program started at L-EHS.

“I asked (Principal Worth) Thomasson if I could bring her. I’d only bring her one day a week on Tuesdays and let the high school teachers help me train her. We started out with just the special education classes. I knew those students needed actual practice reading so I said I’d start with them. The other kids at lunch time would ask if they could come in and sit with the dog. Well, then I opened it up to the whole school because we didn’t have enough students coming to fill her day,” Garber said.

Now Garber sends out a form each Monday for students to sign up for 15-minute reading increments

“The goal is when a reader comes in, (Ginger) will go and lie down on the mat and the student would sit and read,” she said.

Ginger has made progress in the past few weeks learning how to do this. 

“When we began, she was in this kennel and they would sit beside the kennel. We are to the point now where she will sit or lay down to listen as the students read. I think she’s doing very well. She’s still getting there.” Garber said.

Ginger not only enjoys helping students improve their reading, she likes to visit nursing homes as well. 

“She goes to Karesh Wing and Morningside. It’s so neat because residents just brighten up when they see her, and they will tell me about their dog and pet her. If she sees an older person or a little kid, she doesn’t ever jump on them,” Garber said.

She hopes Ginger will also be able to visit patients in a children’s hospital. 

“It is my goal to be able to take her to the children’s hospital in Columbia but she has to pass Canine Good Citizen to do that,” she said.

Garber says Ginger got her name from her color which she said she later learned also suited her personality. 

“Ginger has a little bit of a spicy personality so I think that her name actually suits her a little better.” Garber said.

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