Gov, a lumbering golden retriever, slumbered gently at the feet of 8-year-old Ellie, as she entertained her No. 1 fan with the tale of a curious cat during her weekly tutoring session at Mountain View Elementary.
Although Gov likely didn’t care for the subject matter of the book, he is dedicated to remain by Ellie’s side and provide much needed emotional support whenever the two come together.
The curly-haired retriever is part of an off-shoot tutoring program of the Partnership to Achieve Learning Success (PALS), which was implemented at MVE to strengthen literacy skills. The program serves students who might need a little extra help in mastering comprehension and vocabulary.
Pet Pals was subsequently introduced to serve as a complement to the parent community outreach program. Instead of targeting academic needs, Pet Pals instead focuses on emotional support for students that might traditionally fall into the oversight of the tutoring program.
Governor or Gov, as he is called when he is forced to put his tail between his legs while being scolded after misbehaving, comes to MVE once a week to spend one-on-one time with three different students. During this time, students work on their reading skills while Gov sits attentively by their side. He is there to extend a needed paw of support or to listen to whatever problems the students might want to share with him, as they might not feel comfortable doing so with classmates, teachers or even parents.
Gov is a first at MVE. Although PALS has been a mainstay at the school for years, this is the first time literacy specialists have incorporated a therapy animal.
His provenance is one that was surrounded with a desire to serve the community by his handler, Pam Guion, who is a retired school teacher.
After seeing his interaction with patients as a therapy dog at Ashe Memorial Hospital, Guion thought “the Gov” could also help local students in need. School officials were immediately receptive of the idea because it allowed them to focus on other areas of development, said Literary Specialist Ruth Turnmire.
“As an educator, I have to focus on all needs of a child, not just academic,” said Turnmire. “Knowing we have Governor adds a new dimension to the tutoring program.”
Gov has also become a welcomed site for teachers and students alike.
“Even for the children not participating in the program, it’s exciting for them to see the dog walk down the hall and try to pet him,” said Turnmire. “You see that with faculty members, too. Even as adults, we need to feel emotional support and animals can do that.”
The students who share time with Gov would tend to agree.
Abagail, 8, said she’s likes reading to the inquisitive pup.
“He’s nice and happy,” she added.
Blythe, 9, said she looks forward to her weekly visits with Gov.
“He’s kind and he helps me whenever I’m sad,” said Blythe, whose last name was withheld at the request of the school system. “He’s fluffy. He’s the color of my dog that died a few days ago, Skippy. He lays there and hugs on my feet like the last time when I read, “Clifford, The Big Red Dog, goes to Hollywood.”
Turnmire is hopeful the program catches on at MVE.
“I think it’s a really good thing Ashe County has these special programs to serve students and patients in a unique, caring way,” she added.