Dog days at school

Ca­nines are muses to stu­dents for writ­ing ac­tiv­ity

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - FRONT PAGE - BY KENT JACK­SON STAFF WRITER

HAZLE TWP. — One at a time the kinder­gart­ners stepped to the mi­cro­phone in the Early Learn­ing Cen­ter’s gym­na­sium and guessed who their spe­cial vis­i­tors might be on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

“The high school kids,” Jo­ce­lyn, read­ing from her note­book, said, would “show us how to learn.”

Other stu­dents read guesses that they had writ­ten.

“I think the spe­cial vis­i­tor is my brother.”

“I think the pil­grims be­cause they never came here.”

“I think the vis­i­tor will be Min­nie Mouse.”

“Let’s see,” Phil Latella, the prin­ci­pal, said, “who the vis­i­tors may or may not be.” Mu­sic played.

Lat ella’ s wife, Ly­dia, en­tered while walk­ing their dogs, Coda and But­tons, on leashes.

The stu­dents were abuzz. Some reached to touch the dogs that Ly­dia Latella led around the gym.

But­tons, a gray-and-white Shih Tzu, is 6 and stands about knee-high to Coda, a 2-year-old Ger­man shep­herd who had a ban­dage on his left hind foot.

“What do you think hap­pened to Coda’s foot?” Phil Latella asked the stu­dents without telling them the dog re­cently had a cyst re­moved.

He asked them to write their an­swers. Also, he asked them to write whether they thought that But­tons and Coda were friends.

“You have to tell me why,” he said.

Latella asked his wife to bring the dogs to school this week to boost the kid writ­ing pro­gram. The dogs are sched­uled to visit first-graders to­day and plan to spend Fri­day with sec­ond-graders.

“The idea is to do any­thing to get the child to want to write,” he said.

In kid writ­ing, the chil---

dren write words as they sound.

One girl told Latella that she wrote the let­ters “B” and “N” for But­tons.

When he asked what other let­ter the girl heard in But­tons’ name, she said “T.”

He told her to put the “T” be­tween the “B” and “N” and sent her back to her seat with a high-five.

On Wed­nes­day, the let­ter of the day in kinder­garten was “D” as in disco balls, which some of the stu­dents colored and taped to pa­per

head­bands that they wore.

A teacher brought a note­book to show Latella that a boy who doesn’t speak English had writ­ten “Ilike Coda.”

Latella wants to help pupils over­come their re­luc­tance to write. Once they put let­ters on pa­per, teach­ers can fix their spell­ing, punc­tu­a­tion and cap­i­tal­iza­tion later.

Writ­ing helps stu­dents learn to read, too, Phil Latella said.

His wife, a sec­re­tary at Ha­zle­ton Area High School, brings the dogs to the Early Learn­ing Cen­ter once or twice a month.

Trained as ser­vice dogs, Coda and But­tons usu­ally meet with a few pupils or a sin­gle class rather than a full gym­na­sium.

If stu­dents have been teased or show shy­ness about their read­ing abil­i­ties, she said, “they’re more likely to read to the dogs.”


Ly­dia Latella shows her dogs, But­tons, a 6-year-old Shih Tzu, top, and Coda, a 2-year-old Ger­man shep­herd, be­low, to stu­dents in the kinder­gar ten class at Hazle Twp. Early Learn­ing Cen­ter dur­ing a visit to the school Wed­nes­day. Fol­low­ing the visit, the stu­dents wrote about what they liked best about the dogs and read their pa­pers to the class.


Kinder­gar ten stu­dents at the Hazle Twp. Early Learn­ing Cen­ter are all smiles as a pair of dogs made a spe­cial visit to the school Wed­nes­day. Fol­low­ing the visit, the stu­dents wrote about what they liked best about the dogs and read their pa­pers to the class.

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