Jessica Schuchman, of Paradise Valley, overcame her reading difficulties with the help of furry bunnies and wanted to share that experience with younger kids.
She was recently recognized with the “most prestigious award for girls,” by the Girl Scouts–Arizona Cactus-Pine Council amongst several high school Girl Scouts attaining the Gold Award for her project, “Books and Bunnies,” that is designed for children ages five to 12.
Children spend their time reading to bunnies at the cozy and quaint Tranquility Trail Animal Sanctuary, which houses about 40 bunnies at 7741 E. Gray Road, Suite 2 in Scottsdale.
Miss Schuchman, who feared being judged by her peers for her dyslexia, overcame it by improving her reading skills as a child. By reading to animals, she was able to develop her skills and build her confidence.
For her Gold Award, she wanted to share this opportunity with other children so she started the reading program and partnered with the Jones-Gordon School, which arranged quarterly field trips to attend her program.
Her reading program is available to the public once a month.
“All the children are happy to come and see the bunnies and watch them sit by them while they read. The parents and teachers have also noticed that children’s fluency has increased,” said Tranquility Trail Owner Kelly Ames.
“It was important for Tranquility Trail to become involved in this program because it helps the community’s next generation learn more about bunnies and helps the children become more fluent readers. The bunnies also enjoy the visit with the kids.”
Dana Herzberg, who serves as head of Jones-Gordon School, says the program has had an impact on students as well.
“The students have become more fluent and confident reading out loud in class. Also, they look forward to going to Tranquility Trail, and this encourages them to continue learning in school,” said Ms. Herzberg.
“It was important to be a part of the program because it encouraged the students to read in a positive and fun setting. Also, most students at JGS have dyslexia, and the program helps them learn to overcome their challenges. The program also runs open to the public one Saturday a month where all kids 5-13 are welcome to come read.”
Miss Schuchman, 15, who attends the Paradise Valley-based Jones-Gordon School, and is entering her junior year, noted how she was drawn to the Girl Scouts seven year ago because she wanted to make a positive change in her community and meet new people.
She described her project and future endeavors with the Independent below.
• Describe your project?
Books and Bunnies is meant to help make reading fun for children and give them the courage to feel comfortable reading out loud.
Most of the time, children have to read to classmates out loud, and this can cause anxiety/fear of embarrassment. When they read to the animals, it helps them build a positive connection to literacy.
• What has been the reaction among the children who are encouraged to read in the presence of bunnies?
The children get excited to see the bunnies come up to them when reading, and this encourages them to continue learning. Over time, most kids will develop a favorite to read out loud with. Also, a majority of participants have never seen bunnies in an environment like Tranquility Trail.
• How has reading to bunnies been a comfort and helpful to you?
When I was first learning to read, I struggled with confidence in reading out loud. Additionally, this was because I have dyslexia. When I was in the second grade, I started to read books to animals because it was when I felt most comfortable.
Over time, I became more fluent and learned to love reading. Eventually, I was even able to skip a grade. I want children to have the same opportunity to enjoy reading.
• Do you have a bunny as a pet?
I used to have a bunny named Rocco when I was in middle school.
• What do you want to be when you grow up?
My dream is to attend Stanford and get my undergraduate degree in business. As for a career, I am still undecided.
Volunteering is my hobby/passion. I am the student body president at JGS and love to plan the dances at my school. My friends help me set up and organize each event, and this brings the whole school together.
• What have you been doing since schools have been closed down from the global pandemic?
Now that the Coronavirus outbreak has affected Arizona, I have been in quarantine and working on online school. Also, I have been face-timing friends and learning how to sew masks to donate.
• What message do you have for your peers and younger children during this time when they may be scared?
To stay calm and safe during the outbreak. This pandemic is a part of history in our generation, and we will be able to say that we overcame this challenge together.