Reading program returns to Aspen Ridge Elementary


ISHPEMING TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WLUC) — First-graders at Aspen Ridge Elementary School participate in the “Read Me” program with a pair of furry friends.

Coco and Sophie are two female Goldendoodles who join the reading students at Aspen Ridge Elementary. Their owner Cliff Heliste takes them to schools and nursing homes.

“Dogs really like people, they are human dogs, they are very calm dogs who learn quickly. I tell them at home we’re going to visit the kids in Aspen Ridge and they get all excited and go get their leashes,” Heliste said.

This isn’t the first time Heliste has brought dogs to school. He returns to volunteer after six years.

“I never thought I would go back to school because in 2016 I got lymphoma cancer, and I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I was referred to the University of Michigan and they fixed me, so I’m back,” Heliste explained.

Heliste says his dog Sophie is fairly new, replacing his older dog Sam, who also accompanied him to Aspen Ridge.

“It was really weird because Sam went to the vet and they diagnosed him with lymphoma and he died because of it.”

Kindergarten and Grade 1 students read books to Sophie and Coco in small groups, giving students more reading confidence. For a first-grader, sharing a story with Coco left quite an impression.

“I loved it, she was giving me kisses and she was just buried in the book,” said first-grader Van Machamer.

Heliste will bring Coco and Sophie 2 to 3 days a week for the ‘Read to Me’ program.

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