Sammy & Sparkle

Sammy & Sparkle Help Teach a Love of Reading
Posted on 12/20/2021

Sammy and Sparkle Help Create a Love of Reading
By:  Christine Harper

            Over the last several months, I have used the phrase “It takes a village…” several times when talking about educating children.  The volunteers we have in this district are invaluable.  Each and every one of them does so much for our students to help them in so many ways.  We have two volunteers that work with our students on a regular basis and are not your typical volunteer type.  They are four-legged and furry, and their names are Sammy and Sparkle!

            Sparkle and owner, Janice Kleinsorge, visit Hawthorne Elementary, and the kids get to read to Sparkle.  Sammy, and owner, Brenda Hickman, visit McMillan Early Learning Center and kids get to read to Sammy.  When I was at Hawthorne one day, I watched this amazing interaction between owner, dog and kiddo!  It was mesmerizing!  Sparkle even “asked” a reading question by pointing to the question the child needed to answer about the reading!

            I was definitely curious about Sammy and Sparkle after that and wanted to know more.  Sammy and Sparkle are both 8 years old and have been therapy dogs for 6 years.  After 33 years in education, Janice was wondering what to do in her retirement.  A friend told Janice about her therapy dog going into schools and listening to students read.  Janice was hooked, got the information about the training classes and took Sparkle.  A year later, Sparkle was certified.  Sammy followed shortly after Sparkle.

            Janice and Brenda said the training is not difficult or complicated but the dogs need to be solid in their training.  They said, “We have to depend on them to behave and follow our directions.  They have to sit, stay, leave food alone, and let people touch their bodies anywhere.  Some dogs are born to be therapy dogs and actually some are not.”

            Before Covid, Sammy and Sparkle not only went into schools to read, they also went to hospitals and nursing homes.  They also go to the public library at 4:30 every third Wednesday where kids can read to them.  They are part of a dog drill team in northeast Columbia that performs at various locations, and in the summer go to Safety Town and Summer School to teach kids about being safe around dogs.

            Needless to say, the reactions are positive, and the rewards are endless.  Janice and Brenda said the kids really seem to love when Sammy and Sparkle come to the schools because they are so eager to show the dogs what they have learned..  They said, “The purpose is to encourage children to read.  Many children are hesitant to read aloud, but with the dogs, there is no judgment.  We loved to read as children and we want the children to experience that joy of reading.  If we can use the dogs to take away some of that uncertainty and experience pleasure in reading, then it’s all worthwhile.”

            Sammy and Sparkle are certified through Therapy Dogs International (TDI).  Janice teaches basic dog obedience classes on Monday evenings and has also helped people prepare their dogs for the therapy dog tests.  Anyone wanting more information can contact Janice through A&H Dog Grooming or can contact Ann Gafke’s Dog School.