A Hilliard student teacher is giving back to his elementary alma mater with a little help from man's best friend.
Andy DeVere, a student teacher at Weaver Middle School, visits Avery Elementary School once a week with his therapy dog, Duncan, a 3-year-old Labradoodle.
They work with a small group of students who struggle with reading.
The practice of using therapy dogs to help students learn to read with confidence has been gaining popularity in libraries and school districts.
Proponents of such programs say children who are self-conscious when reading aloud in front of their peers can relax when reading to a dog that provides positive, nonjudgmental feedback.
DeVere, 31, teaches science and social studies at Weaver, but he volunteered to bring Duncan to Avery, the elementary school he once attended.
DeVere said he bought Duncan from a breeder and trained him as a therapy dog, which is not to be confused with a service dog that helps people with physical handicaps.
He said he takes Duncan to visit nursing homes. Earlier this school year, he took the dog to a Westerville elementary school where he worked with children having difficulty reading.
The Avery program began April 2. Each week, DeVere and Duncan visit a classroom of 13 students, ages kindergarten through fifth grade, who are struggling readers.
Principal Tara Grove said their visits create an excitement for reading.
"It is great to see these kids so excited to see Duncan," Grove said.
Reading to Duncan, rather than adults and other students in a traditional classroom setting, can provide a less stressful environment for students, she said.
The books the students read also teach them about social skills, Grove said.
Grove said Avery officials are assessing the visits and might expand the number of students Duncan visits next year, possibly having DeVere work with students whose second language is English.
DeVere said he wants to add more children to the program and "would work wherever I am welcome."
DeVere, who lives in the Short North, is a 2001 graduate of Davidson High School. He said he will graduate next month with a master's degree in education from Otterbein University. He has a bachelor's degree in economics from the Ohio State University.
He also helps coach lacrosse at Davidson High School.