"The acronym PARP has taken on a new meaning at Southdown Primary School where Principal Michelle Marino has spearheaded an initiative that will bring a trained therapy dog to the school from a local rescue and adoption center to help spur student reading.

PARP has traditionally stood for the PTA's Parents as Reading Partners program. Southdown's new PARP program is Pooches as Reading Partners. It's "an initiative that brings trained therapy dogs and children together to share in the process of learning to read with confidence and joy," according to a project proposal that passed muster with administrators and Huntington School Board members.

The Little Shelter Dog and Cast Rescue and Adoption Center is providing a trained therapy dog and handler once a week to work with three groups of four students each, 30 minutes at a time. "The groups will meet in an enclosed area of the school and will be supervised by a member of the teaching staff," Mrs. Marino said. "Students will take turns reading from a common selection, pre-determined by the teacher for content and level of difficult, while the dog sits calmly in the center of the reading circle."

Arleen Leone, the Little Shelter's special projects manager, is the handler assigned to Southdown. But, the star of the show will clearly be Charlotte, the five-year old Brussels Griffin therapy dog who will be coming to the school.

Mrs. Marino cited the following reasons for bringing the program to her school:

• To provide a calming, non-judgmental canine listener for students who have anxiety or lack confidence when reading aloud.

• To increase literacy and social skills.

• To learn about animals as they watch the dog react to them reading.

Classroom and reading teachers will select second, third and fourth graders to participate in the program based upon various factors. A signed parental permission slip must be submitted by each of the youngsters.

"After reading the students will engage in conversations, directed by the teacher, that target comprehension of story as well as opportunities for inference and higher-order thinking," Mrs. Marino said. "Students will receive a color photo of their dog to be used as a bookmark and visual for stress reduction while reading aloud."

The Little Shelter has been caring for homeless animals since 1927. Located at 33 Warner Road (off Elwood Road) in Huntington, the organization sponsors several "give-back to the community" programs, including the one adopted by Southdown.

"There are no costs associated with this program, only benefits to the children," Mrs. Marino said. Southdown students will rotate through the program every six weeks at which time a new set of groups will be formed.

The Little Shelter has been working with schools in Cold Spring Harbor and North Babylon as part of similar programs. "Southdown School has a long history and commitment to community outreach and participates in many opportunities to support local and global needs," Mrs. Marino said. "This program reinforces the responsibility to give back as being a valuable member of the community and society."