For 6-year-old Thompson Thorn, this April afternoon is a rare chance to get some hands on time with a dog.
"I have never really got to sit with a dog for a long time," Thompson said. "I always see dogs on the street and I get to pet them, but I'm glad I got to read with a dog."
Thompson, a student at Saint Stephen of Hungary, takes part in the R.E.A.D. literacy program, where service dogs come into schools to help kids learn to read.
The program hooks up specially trained therapy dogs, like Terrie the black Lab, to act as nonjudgmental listeners for young readers.
Francie Alexander, the chief academic officer at Scholastic, says they work.
"Kids have to practice to be good readers, and yet when you're practicing, if you make a mistake, it can feel risky and uncomfortable," Alexander says. "But if you're practicing with a dog, you don't mind making the mistake."
Kids like Thompson love interacting with a furry friend.
Molly Mundy owns Terrie, the therapy dog.
"They glow when they come in here and see the dog," she says. "When youngsters read to dogs their blood pressure goes down, and they get interested in the dogs and they know that they're a better reader than the dog is."
Reading to dogs helps calm young children and relieves the pressure of embarrassment when they make reading mistakes.
Florence Evans, the assistant principal at Saint Stephen of Hungary School on the Upper East Side, says the program has helped many students improve their reading skills.
"We have found that the students who participate in the program are really eager to come and read and they have developed an increased confidence (with Terry and) when they return to the classroom," Evans says.
A University of California study found that young children who read with therapy improved their reading skills by 12 percent over the course of a 10-week program in comparison to children in the same program who didn't read to dogs; they showed no improvement.
Thompson also agrees.
"Yes, it's very good, it helped me understand the story more and it helps the dog," he says.
The R.E.A.D. literacy program is in 11 New York City Public libraries and multiple New York City public schools, but they hope to expand to more. The Intermountain Therapy Animals R.E.A.D. program launched in Salt Lake City in 1999, and now 3,500 teams of specially trained read teams helping kids learn to read all over country and all over the world.