Morinville Public School finds PAW-fect reading companion

Above: Grade four student Harper VanIngen sits with his school’s newest visitor, Bella. The dog is providing kids with a chance to read out loud in a no-pressure environment, as part of Morinville Public School’s NME program.

by Jennifer Lavallee
Morinville News Correspondent

Students at Morinville Public School were excited to welcome a unique new staff member to their school last Friday, on December 2. This staffer stands out for obvious reasons: she walks on four legs and has a tail. She is the Vice-Principal, Kerri Trombley’s, seven-year-old rescue dog, Bella.

This special canine will be joining Morinville Public (MPS) every Friday for the remainder of the academic year as part of that school’s NME program (which stands for Neurosequential Model in Education). NME is an approach several schools within the Sturgeon School Division introduced last year as a pilot project; the program assists students with specific needs to achieve goals and with strengthening particular skills.

NME advocates for taking a step back and looking at what students need at the very root of whatever they are facing. Sometimes it means something simple: taking a short movement break or playing with a ‘fidget.’ These types of actions ultimately allow a student to focus better. Other times, it means spending a few minutes in the school’s sensory room, which gives kids a chance to regulate themselves and then get back to learning.

In Bella’s case, she is there to help boost confidence in literacy.

“Children become better readers when they practice reading,” explained Trombley in an interview. “Struggling readers need to read out loud, but sometimes resist with peers or in class because they do not feel confident.”

The Vice-Principal said there is a benefit to reading to a pet because it allows students to read in a no-pressure environment. “An animal just listens,” she said, “they never correct.”

Bella, who’s role is officially described as providing Flexible Learning Supports, will be available to select students (picked by their teachers) at the end of each week, for about ten to 15 minutes of reading at a time.

It’s an idea that sits well with grade four MPS student, Harper VanIngen. “I think reading with Bella is fun,” he said, “she is a really nice and friendly dog.” VanIngen, who was reading his book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, to the pup on Friday, described the experience as one that made him happy and took away some of the nerves associated with reading.

“I hope I get to read to her again,” he noted, as he looked up at Trombley with a smile.

Trombley said dogs and cats have come into the school as special guests in the past, visits that have always been well received by students. MPS currently has many other classroom pets which provide learning opportunities for the kids as well, including guinea pigs and skinny pigs, snakes, bunnies, and a hermit crab named Arial.

After her first full day of work on Friday, Trombley speculated Bella would be ecstatic. “Since most of [my kids] moved out over the last couple years, she has been acting lonely,” said Trombley, who added this gives the dog a chance to do what she loves—being with people.

Landing Trail School, Ochre Park School, and Oak Hill School are other Sturgeon School Division Schools who have also engaged in the NME pilot project.

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