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Read To A Dog: North Brunswick Kiwanis are Helping Children Improve Their Reading Skills

By: Jan Morgan-Swegle

I believe that there is no greater gift we can give a child than the love of reading. Reading can fuel their imagination, start their dreams and let them escape from the loud noise of everyday life. Part of that loud noise came from the pandemic. The disruption of our children’s education has had a major impact on their ability to develop not only a love of reading, but on reading in general.

A CBS news report, filed in September, 2022, citing a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, indicated “math and reading scores for America’s 9-year-olds fell dramatically during the first two years of the pandemic. Reading scores saw their largest decrease in reading and comprehension in 30 years.”

Peggy Bradt, President of North Brunswick Kiwanis agrees. “Our students lost ground both academically and socially during the Pandemic,” she said. “This year, the North Brunswick Kiwanis Club is committed to encouraging children to not only read, but to read to others. They have developed the ‘Read To A Dog’ program.”

Peggy gives a lot of credit to the delivery of the program to Marybeth Christiano, who is a long time Kiwanis Club volunteer and leader on this project. “Marybeth was recently named the Education Chairperson for Kiwanis, so all of our educational initiatives will be developed and directed by Marybeth,” Peggy said.

“Each school in Brunswick County has a Kiwanis volunteer, and Marybeth has been very active in Lincoln Elementary School,” she said. “This is a pilot program, starting with just second graders at that school. We hope to assess our progress after a few months of these sessions, and look for ways to expand on the experience, such as encouraging the participating students to read to a pet or sibling at home. Or, other students might keep a log of their independent reading time for which they could be given certificates or other incentives.

“This program will be beneficial for the student who is lagging in their reading skills, those for whom English is a second language, the shy child who lacks confidence to read aloud, and for any child that needs the one-on-one attention of a reading buddy,” she said.

Peggy said they got the idea from one at another local school. “The Pine Valley library was doing something similar and we thought it would be a good fit for our mission,” she said. “We are focused on reading skills. We want to find out if this program makes students want to continue to read and how we can expand on the program to be even more successful.”

Working with students at Lincoln Elementary School who were selected by their teachers, and with parental approval, second graders participated in two practice sessions with the Kiwanis Club member “coach.” They read out loud and gained confidence in their verbal presentation skills.

On the third day, the children read a story using a life-sized stuffed dog as their “audience.” The readers receive a certificate with their name and picture on it, the book they read, and a keychain with a small stuffed dog on it to celebrate their success. “Kids want to be able to go home and show an achievement, it makes them feel special and they hopefully, they will associate reading with that good feeling.” Peggy said.

Peggy also shared a different Kiwanis reading project — Story Walk. “Story Walk is a half mile walk in one of our near-by parks. There are 18 stations where you will progressively read a story, look at pictures and possibly participate in some interactive activities. For example, if the book being read is about butterflies, children might be asked to look in the area to see if they find any butterflies. It gives parents and children an opportunity to read together and talk about the story they are reading.”

Peggy stressed that Kiwanis is a great way to get involved with the community and really make a difference. “We live in a community with a lot of retired people. Successful retirement may include mental stimulation or physical activity or both. We all want to live a life of purpose. Being part of Kiwanis gives you the opportunity to learn, act and belong. There is so much negativity in the world today. We can’t change very much of that, but when you belong to Kiwanis, you are improving the world one child at a time. This is one initiative that faces one problem. We owe it to our community to be looking for places and ways to make small improvements. Belong to something you believe in,” she said.

For more information about Kiwanis, contact Peggy at


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