Mann goes to the dog

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A four-legged student has enrolled at Mann Elementary.

Sidda, a 12-year-old golden retriever, is the newest addition to Mann. She is the only certified therapy dog to make a regular appearance at an Iowa City elementary school.

Sidda belongs to Mann Principal Julie Robinson and has been a certified therapy dog for 10 years. To become a therapy dog, Sidda underwent intensive training in 2006 to learn various skills, such as being able to differentiate between working and playing.

“When she is at school, Sidda would never chomp on anyone or run at someone,” she said. “She is very calm, so it’s a great fit for kids who aren’t familiar with dogs and are afraid of dogs.”

Sidda’s main role at Mann is being a reading companion. Students will bring books from their classroom or even stories they have written themselves into Robinson’s office to read to Sidda. The effort is done in order to improve reading skills and build confidence in their reading ability.

With a teacher’s approval, students are free to drop in Robinson’s office to read to Sidda whenever she is in the building, typically three to four days a week.

“She comes to school with me in the morning and leaves whenever I go home,” she said. “Kids are always asking if Sidda is in the building.”

Robinson said having a therapy dog in a school may not be a good fit for everyone, but it has worked for Mann very well. She said it’s hard to describe the joy people feel when they see Sidda walk in the building every morning because it makes everyone’s day happier when she’s around.

“Anything that helps kids learn empathy for another creature or having something else to love is a plus,” she said.

Linda Prybil, Robinson’s secretary, said the office can be a busy place with people running in and out making copies, but Sidda’s presence can calm everything down.

“The children love reading to her. I have heard one second grader read more to her this year than he has his entire time spent at Mann. I am amazed that kids of all ages are excited to see her and read to her,” she said.

Tim Kemp, a sixth-grade teacher at Mann, said Sidda has been a hit at Mann with students of all ages. At first, he said, one of his students was reluctant to read with Sidda, but now can’t wait for the next opportunity to spend time with Mann’s four-legged friend.

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