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Delaware Teacher Creates Puppy Therapy Program to Help First Graders with Their Reading

"The puppies don't care if you get stuck on a word. They're just happy to sit in your lap. So much confidence has come from this program," Brooke Hughes said

<p>Getty</p> A stock image of a child reading with a dog

Getty

A stock image of a child reading with a dog

A Delaware teacher is proving that a good book pairs perfectly with puppies!

Brooke Hughes, a first-grade teacher at Hanby Elementary School in Wilmington, launched the Foster Tales Puppy Program last year to help young students not only boost their reading skills, but improve their mental health, according to Good Morning America.

Local rescue puppies are brought into the classroom, giving kids an opportunity to pet and cuddle the animals while they learn and go about their school day.

Hughes told the outlet that she first dreamed up the idea for the puppy therapy program when she began fostering dogs during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. "I just couldn't stop thinking of all the amazing benefits that the puppies could bring to the actual classroom," she recalled. "It could bring so much mental health support and reading support, not only for the students, but for the staff too."

Inspired, she wrote up a proposal to welcome dogs into the classroom and pitched the idea to her school's administration. In January 2023, Hughes — who has been teaching first grade at Hanby for 12 years — did a trial run of her new program.

"[Hanby Principal Juliet Agresti] let me bring in three puppies for one day to see how it went and it was amazing. It brought so much joy to the school," she told GMA. "The puppies just lifted everyone's spirits and ever since then, we haven't had many days without puppies in our school."

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So far, Hughes has partnered with the Rags 2 Riches Animal Rescue in nearly Garnet Valley, Pa., to bring in more than 50 puppies, between the ages of 6 and 12 months old. She noted that rather than being a disruption, the puppies bring a "calming" influence to the classroom — and serve as a great incentive to encourage kids to get their work done efficiently.

Related: Millie Bobby Brown Reveals She Has 9 Pet Dogs and Is Fostering a Further ‘23 Dogs Right Now'

"People think that my classroom must be a zoo and straight chaos. But the puppies are actually very calming," Hughes told GMA. "Our productivity is up because [the students] have to get all their work done to have puppy time."

To make the program possible, the students and their parents sign up to care for the puppies on weeknights and weekends, and Rags 2 Riches generously covers the financial costs and provides all the necessary supplies for the animals' care. Typically, the foster puppies get adopted within weeks.

<p>Getty</p> A stock image of a child and a dog

Getty

A stock image of a child and a dog

In just one year, Hughes is already seeing her students make significant strides with their reading, thanks to their furry friends.

"We're collecting data on the reading scores from fall to spring, compared to other years [where] we didn't have puppies. And just from fall to winter, we've noticed almost a 32% increase," she told GMA, noting that the gain can likely be attributed in large part to all of the extra reading practice that students are getting in.

"Because they're eager — they want to read and they want to practice, and that is going to always increase scores," she added.

Hughes also said that even students who struggle with reading — and were reluctant to pick up a book in the past — now jump at the chance to sit and cuddle up with a book and a puppy.

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"Even the kids that have a hard time reading … and they didn't want to pick up a book and they were frustrated, [now] they can't wait to read to the puppies," she told GMA. "The puppies don't care if you get stuck on a word. The puppies don't care if you try to read one word for five minutes. They're just happy to sit in your lap. So, so much confidence has come from this program."

And it's not just the students who are experiencing the puppy perks, Hughes noted.

"I call it a win-win-win-win ... the staff benefits because we like coming to school with puppies, the students benefit from learning so many life skills, the puppies benefit because they're getting out of the shelter and loved on completely, and then the rescue benefits because we're freeing up another spot at the rescue for another animal to be saved," she said.

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