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Teacher's pet Angel is helping Ards children read better

By Rachel Martin

A dog who loves to listen is making a difference with young sters who have struggled to read out loud.

Every week pupils of Abbey Primary School in Newtownards, Co Down, welcome Angel 'the reading dog'.

Pupils Amber Boyd, Evie Kelso and Paige Patterson with Angel the reading dog in Newtownards
Pupils Amber Boyd, Evie Kelso and Paige Patterson with Angel the reading dog in Newtownards

Teachers pick three kids in each year group who need a little extra encouragement to read out loud, and every week they meet with Angel to tell her some of their favourite short stories.

The pupils say they have fallen in love with the pooch and are always excited for the next time they get to read to the golden Labrador.

The difference in some of the pupils has been "astounding", Mrs Nelson, the children's teacher, said.

Emma Henderson struggled to speak to adults before the sessions, but now confidently reads from her book when she's sitting beside Angel.

"It's massive that she's reading to Angel, because she wouldn't read out loud otherwise at all, and her mummy says that since she's started she's talking more to family members," Mrs Nelson said.

"She's been transformed, her mummy would say, in all areas of her life.

"I think it works because Angel just listens while a lot of adults don't. We are all guilty of it - at home parents are busy and even in the classroom you're having to keep one eye on the rest of the class and what they're doing, but Angel is not doing that; she's just sitting there and listening to them."

The scheme began in November. It's thought Abbey PS is the first school in Northern Ireland to enlist the services of a reading dog.

Angel's owner, Janet Clements, is a parent and former teacher from Newtownards.

She said she first brought Angel into the school for 'pet week', but teachers realised how well the children responded to the Labrador and asked her to bring Angel back on a more regular basis.

Principal Jonathan Manning said he was bemused by the idea at first but decided to give it a go.

"It's a different thing for a school, but we felt that due to the positive research on it that we would try it out," he said.

"The results are that the children really enjoy it, it's really improved their self-confidence and self-esteem, and also we have seen a big improvement in their reading ages, which is something I didn't think would happen.

"By doing this for around two months some of the children's reading ages have improved by more than a year - which is phenomenal."

And the children agree. Leo Anderson (5) said: "I didn't like reading before.

"I didn't like saying the words out loud, but now it's OK because Angel will listen."

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