Reading buddy wins the hearts of Newton School kindergartners

  • Emma Pickle, a Bright Spots therapy dog owned by retired Greenfield teacher Marianne MacCaffrey, greets Steven Hall, 6, at Newton School Monday. Recorder Staff/Joshua Solomon

  • Emma Pickle, a Bright Spots therapy dog owned by a longtime Greenfield teacher, greets about 50 kindergartners at Newton School Monday. Recorder Staff/Joshua Solomon

Recorder Staff
Tuesday, March 27, 2018

GREENFIELD — Every Tuesday, Emma Pickle comes to Newton School to listen as students read to her.

Sometimes, Emma goes to classrooms and says hello to students and teachers, knowing very well her way around the elementary school.

On Monday, Emma visited about 50 kindergartners to thank them for their fundraising efforts as they presented a $500 check from this year’s schoolwide “Penny Wars.”

Emma Pickle, 8, a golden retriever and a Bright Spot therapy dog, has been a regular at Newton School the past five years, helping students build up confidence in their reading skills by having a smiling companion by their side, who might give you a paw with every page read.

“All kids need confidence and she’s just a part of that ‘I love it when you read’ feeling,” Marianne MacCaffrey said.

When MacCaffrey comes in with her dog, she is acting both as a volunteer for the Northampton-based Bright Spot Therapy Dogs but also as a “reading buddy.” As students read to Emma, they’ll also be quietly coached by MacCaffrey.

“It’s a special school here,” MacCaffrey said. “People really focus on reading and writing and math.” She joked that she and her dog “just do reading. Emma is a good reader, but we’ve been working on math.”

It’s no accident, though, that MacCaffrey, Emma’s owner, has been coming to Newton School the past five years. MacCaffrey is no rookie to teaching herself. She was a teacher in the area for about 35 years, including at Greenfield Middle School, Four Corners and North Parish.

About five years ago when current Newton School Principal Melodie Goodwin was starting out as a teacher at the middle school, she met MacCaffrey.

She began speaking to her co-worker about one of their shared passions, golden retrievers. MacCaffrey told Goodwin she was training a golden to become a therapy dog. Goodwin told MacCaffrey when her dog was ready to come to a classroom, to bring the dog to her.

“I’m a strong believer of therapy dogs being in every school,” Goodwin said Monday. “One of the things is today’s world is way too fast and there’s a lot of trauma in kids’ lives. Sitting with a dog is very calming and it brings warmth to the soul.”

Now, Goodwin uses the assistance of Bright Spot and MacCaffrey to help her students feel more confident as readers, while Emma has become a celebrity in the school.

The golden retriever’s celebrity status led to the kindergarten class deciding that if they won the school’s Penny Wars, they would chose to have the money sent to Bright Spots. The Penny Wars is a competitive way to raise money for a cause during the week before winter vacation in February at Newton School. This year, the school raised $500 during the week, and the grade that raised the most was kindergarten. So that meant the money went to Bright Spots.

To thank the school, MacCaffrey and Emma Pickle came to visit the 50 or so kindergartners Monday.

As students came up one-by-one to pet Emma, they jumped up in delight. Afterward, Julian Ashcraft, 6, said that Emma was the first dog he ever got to pet and Jillian DeBlase, 6, said she’s played with her dad’s huskie before, but petting Emma today, “made me feel cool.”

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