Second graders take reading to the dogs

Students with Kim Fullenkamp's 2nd grade class at Richardson Elementary pose with supplies and books they brought to PAW Animal Shelter Wednesday for a reading project with shelter dogs. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC


FORT MADISON – It was a bit ‘ruff” at the start, but a new project from Richardson Elementary students is helping dogs become more social, while helping younger students become better readers.

A group of second grade students from Kim Fullenkamp’s class at the Fort Madison west side elementary are using a research-based initiative to help improve their reading skills, while helping dogs at the PAW animal shelter adapt to human interaction…and giving back to their community.

For the second month in a row, Fullenkamp’s students brought black milk crates and story books out the animal shelter about a mile south of the Hwy. 61 and 48th Street intersection. The students, this being the month of December, brought their favorite Christmas books and plopped down on the cement and dirt runs in front of kennels containing the dogs.

Jessica Conwell, a Behavior Disorder Teacher Associate, works with Toby Bennett in reading a Christmas story to a kenneled dog on Wednesday morning at the PAW animal shelter. The two are part of Kim Fullenkamp’s Richardson Elementary 2nd grade class that is reading to the dogs monthly. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

“I saw a post on Facebook that a group in Missouri was reading to dogs as part of a research project and I thought it would be a great community project for the kids,” Fullenkamp said Wednesday as her class spread out among the kennels.

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“Our goal now is to come out every month and have the students sit and read to the dogs.”

Fullenkamp said she researched the impact of reading to dogs and realized that at shelters in particular, the dogs get more socialization and the children’s voices can be calming to them. It also has the added benefit of helping the students with reading skills.

She said the students have planned the program from the ground up and enjoy coming out to the shelter for part of the day.

Since it was December and a month of giving, the students also took the opportunity to collect supplies for the shelter and presented those to PAW Director Sandy Brown.

Brown said the dogs, who were a bit rambunctious for the first part of the readings with all the extra added attention from media and kids, have reacted very well to the reading and seem to enjoy the interaction.

“They seem a bit more agitated today, last time they settled in pretty quick and then it was really cool to listed to the kids read and see the dogs sitting there,” Brown said.

“It’s good socialization for the animals and helps them become more adoptable, and it’s good because it helps the kids with reading.”

Fullenkamp said there is a cost associated with the program because they have to pay for the school bus to transport them to the shelter. She said Connection Bank gave them $100 donation for the project. To have the students come out once a month during the school year will cost about $140 more and she said she’s looking for donations to help offset that cost.

“It surprised me a little that some people said “No”, but I think that’s because they really didn’t understand what was happening. This is the first time something like this has taken place around here” Fullenkamp said.

According to the program, the students have to practice reading the books they will take to the shelter with their parents at home and the parents have to sign off that the student is reading the book well enough to be able to read on their own to the animals.

Fullenkamp that helps make the student more comfortable with the book and leads to better experience for the student…and the dog.

“Dogs aren’t judgmental when you’re reading to them in a kennel. They sit and actually listen and that makes the stress on the students less because there is no feedback. Just listening. Reading in front of peers can be very stressful on students. We just think this is a win for the students and the animals.”

Those interested in helping fund the class’s efforts can reach Fullenkamp by email at or by calling the school at 319-372-2765. More information about the PAW no-kill animal shelter can be found online at or on Facebook at

Students from Richardson Elementary line the kennel run on the north side of the PAW animal shelter on Wednesday and read Christmas stories to the adoptable pets. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

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