Elementary students in low-income Chicago Public Schools are getting lessons in reading tales, writing tales and wagging tails through an innovative program called SitStayRead. “We go to schools in the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago where the kids are struggling. We specifically go into low-income schools where the majority of the students are reading below grade-level,” said Jen Lauer, development director for SitStayRead. Lauer says by the time a middle-income student starts kindergarten, they have been read to for more than 1,000 hours. Yet when a low-income student starts kindergarten, they have been read to for an average of just 25 hours. The disparity creates a real issue for students. Studies show that students who aren’t reading at grade-level by third grade are far more likely to drop out of school. SitStayRead aims to break the cycle early. How do you get young kids to focus, practice reading and then learn to love it? You turn teaching on its tail. In SitStayRead, children get to practice their skills by reading to a pup in the classroom. “It’s inspirational to see the kids’ faces when the dogs walk into the classroom,” Lauer said. “There’s a lot going on outside the program for these kids. If they can have a moment where they sit and pet a dog, it changes the whole atmosphere.” The dogs and volunteers create a supportive learning environment. “They don’t judge the kids or correct them.” said Lauer. After reading to dogs, the kids get to practice writing. The experience is so rewarding for them that many of the kids feature the dogs in their stories. As a recipient of a 4imprint® one by one® grant, SitStayRead was able to order custom printed lanyards and canvas promotional tote bags for their volunteers. With the SitStayRead logo on their lanyards and tote bags, the volunteers can easily identify themselves at partner schools. More than that, volunteers also get a much-deserved thank you for all they do to give children the vital reading skills that they will use for a lifetime.
For more information about SitStayRead, please visit