Horse Powered Tutoring at Lake Erie College Encourages Local Elementary Students

The Lake Erie College (LEC) School of Education and School of Equine Studies and Painesville City Local Schools (PCLS) are pleased to introduce Horse Powered Tutoring this summer. The nine-week program from June to August offers local elementary school students the opportunity to improve their reading confidence with help from LEC students, faculty, staff and alumni, as well as horses from the LEC School of Equine Studies.

Horse Powered Tutoring came about through a collaboration between Dean of the School of Education Dr. Katharine Delavan and Director of Riding Mary Pardee. The intent of the program is to provide students with a judgement free reading environment with the horses. Their desire to have a program allowing children to become more comfortable with reading by bonding with horses was sponsored by double alumna Suzanne Schoedinger Ellis ‘59 ’87. Ellis, who earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in education from LEC, fully funded the project. PCLS also contributed grant funds to pay the tutors and have provided bussing, breakfast, and lunch, with help from LEC Instructor of Early Childhood Education Hannah Fairbanks to coordinate. These grant contributions also funded the purchase of lower gates to allow the children to interact with the horses, and new books with appropriate reading levels and relevant themes.

Students from PCLS attend the program Monday through Thursday for two hours each day. Two days out of the week, they work in the Garfield Center on the main LEC campus, focusing on literacy tutoring using the Words Their Way curriculum, which assesses a child's stage of spelling which correlates to their reading level. Students also have science and art choices. Each student has a reading log designed to look like a riding arena. For every 15 minutes of reading, they place a sticker on a horseshoe or fence. After an hour they place a horseshoe on their tracker in the hallway. After eight hours they receive a goody bag and another reading log to complete. There is no limit to the number of hours or logs a student can complete.

On the other two days, at the George M. Humphrey Equestrian Center, the students read to their horses. The instructors let the students have space, allowing them to read to the horses without the pressure of reading perfectly. This builds confidence and eliminates the stress of constant correction from adults. At the barn, students also watch demonstrations from the equestrian center staff, such as giving a horse a bath, a riding lesson, horse anatomy, and more. 

“The relationship between the students and their horse is sacred and special,” says Dr. Delavan. “It did not take long for the students to identify with their horse and make a connection. I think the horses are just as excited as the kids too!”

The staff at the equestrian center are experienced and knowledgeable about introducing children to horses. The Therapeutic Riding Program is up and running again this year, after some breaks for health and safety in 2020. Visiting Instructor of Equine Studies Sarah Dwyer ’18 ’20 has overseen the Therapeutic program, and has been assisting with Horse Powered Tutoring.

"I chose six of our school horses that I thought would be friendly and safe to use for this program,” Dwyer explained. “I tried to pick the attention hogs, and they seem to really be enjoying this time with the kids. A lot of the students had never pet a horse before and now they get to spend the whole summer with them. Watching the kids get more comfortable around the horses and enjoying the barn has been so fun.”

Both LEC undergraduates and graduates are helping to organize the daily schedules as well as the science and art experiences. They work with the groups of students for the two-hour sessions each day. The tutors include Abby Suida ‘22, Yasmine Thornton ‘21, Norma Gutierrez ‘19, Bishop Thomas ‘24, Makayla Butz ‘22, Amber Koubeck ‘22, Josie Casillas, Katie Gillespie ‘21 and her mom Cheryl. Volunteer Kyla Newman, a student from Mentor High School, is also a great addition to the team.

In addition to the tutoring, students also participate in field trips as part of the program. They will be traveling to the James A. Garfield National Historic Site to earn junior ranger badges, Barnes and Noble to turn in their summer reading log for a free book, and Rainbow Farms to pick blueberries. The program also sometimes heads to Mountain Glen Farm to read to horses when the equestrian center has other events. 

Dr. Delavan detailed one of the success stories the program has already seen. A third grade boy told the tutors on the first day that he would only read Pete the Cat books. After attempts by the professors to convince him that he would find other books to enjoy failed, one current LEC student stepped in.

“Makayla told him that his horse, Mimic, would really like to hear a different book than Pete the Cat,” Dr. Delavan explained. “Makayla showed him a list of books that Mimic would like to hear. She asked if he could pick one and read it to Mimic. Without hesitation, he chose a new book and read it to Mimic. Mimic was able to challenge this third grade boy in ways a human could not. The horses are truly magical with all of the kids.”