Steeler the Therapy Dog Helps Youngsters Learn

By  //  October 18, 2013

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VISITS St. Mary's Catholic School

ABOVE VIDEO: Emily Manning, a 2002 graduate and teacher at Melbourne Central Catholic high school, explains how St. Mary’s taught her more than what it means to be a good teacher. The Rockledge school showed her what unconditional love is all about.

BREVARD COUNTY • ROCKLEDGE, FLORIDA — Wearing his favorite NFL team’s collar, Steeler eagerly greets Keilan Borcea and snuggles up to him as soon as the first-grader sits on a bright orange pillow and rug tucked in the corner of a classroom at St. Mary’s Catholic School.

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Keilan opens his book about animals and begins to read as the 10-pound dog edges closer eyeing the pictures in the book. (Image for SpaceCoastDailt.com)

Keilan opens his book about animals and begins to read as the 10-pound dog edges closer eyeing the pictures in the book.

Keilan scratches the dog’s shoulders as he continues to read a smile forming on his face as he relaxes and the rhythm of his reading picks up. When the young boy finishes the chapter, Steeler nuzzles him.

“Great job,” said Kelly Clay, Steelers doggie mom and school volunteer. “You’re such a good reader. I think Steeler enjoyed listening to you.”

“Not only does Steeler help the children relax when they read, which builds confidence, Clay is amazing with the children too. So they are a great team.” 

Keilan smiles and gives Steeler a treat, which the Jack Russell Chihuahua mix wolfs down.

In a few minutes, Keilan departs and another classmate arrives, which Steeler greets just as eagerly.

Steeler just started visiting St. Mary’s school this month as part of a new program aimed at building confidence among young readers.

THERAPY DOG TRAINING

His handler, Clay, partnered with first-grade teacher Marty Pat Altman to launch the program after Steeler completed several months of therapy dog training with Therapy Dogs Incorporated.

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“We originally got him for my daughter who has Asperger’s. He wasn’t trained then, but he did so well with her. He’s so patient and she just lite up around him. We thought, he’s a special dog. We could help a lot of children.” (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

The non-profit has registered more than 11,000 therapy dog teams nationwide.

“He’s a rescue dog,” Clay said holding the pint-size mutt.

“We originally got him for my daughter who has Asperger’s. He wasn’t trained then, but he did so well with her. He’s so patient and she just lights up around him. We thought, he’s a special dog. We could help a lot of children.”

Steeler, named after the Pittsburgh Steelers which the family cheer for during the season, began visiting a nursing home in Rockledge over the summer and as he waited for classes to resume at St. Mary’s.

A GREAT TEAM MEMBER

“We’re thrilled and blessed to have Kelly and Steeler,” said Altman who went to school with Clay’s husband at St. Mary’s School when they were children.”

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Steeler, named after the Pittsburgh Steelers which the family cheer for during the season, began visiting a nursing home in Rockledge over the summer and as he waited for classes to resume at St. Mary’s. (Image for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

“Not only does Steeler help the children relax when they read, which builds confidence, Clay is amazing with the children too. So they are a great team.”

Several schools, universities, libraries and nursing homes nationwide have started using therapy dogs to help their clients. Studies indicate that therapy dogs have a positive impact.

A 2011 Tufts University Veterinary School study found that second – graders saw improvement in reading after completing a pilot reading program that had children reading to therapy dogs over the summer.

Clay said Steeler has enhanced her daughter’s life and she can already see improvement among many of St. Mary’s first-graders after only a few weeks.

“I think its because Steeler, and therapy dogs in general, don’t judge you,” Clay said.

“So people relax. They aren’t embarrassed to make mistakes, because the dog isn’t going to judge you. So the anxiety level goes down and the learning takes off.”

ABOUT ST. MARY’S CATHOLIC SCHOOL

St. Mary’s Catholic School opened its doors in 1958 in the heart of Rockledge, Fl. Since then, the faculty and staff have been providing a Christ-centered environment where children learn to be responsible, independent and enthusiastic life-long learners.

“We originally got Steeler for my daughter who has Asperger’s. He wasn't trained then, but he did so well with her. He’s so patient and she just lite up around him. We thought, he’s a special dog. We could help a lot of children.” Clay said. (Therapy Dogs Incorporated image)

Steeler just started visiting St. Mary’s school this month as part of a new program aimed at building confidence among young readers. (Therapy Dogs Incorporated image)

The fully accredited school serves children in prek-3 through eighth grade.

It delivers the Orlando Dioceses curriculum to its students, which is rich in academics, the arts, music, athletics and provides an emphasis on the sciences as well as foreign languages starting in kindergarten. The small size of the school provides a nurturing family environment that is steeped in the spirit of Mercy taught by the Catholic Church.

St. Mary’s graduates not only enter the best high schools in the county, they become astute critical thinkers who will succeed in the 21st Century and beyond.

For more information visit St.Mary’s-School.org


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