Glacier Hills teacher, dog spend decade inspiring students

Mary Braun retires after 15 years in education

Twice a month for more than 10 years, Mary Braun has brought her 11-year-old black lab, Sadie, to her second-grade classroom at Glacier Hills Elementary in Eagan to help students improve their reading skills. Braun retired at the end of the school year after 15 years in education. (Photo by Jessica Harper)

Twice a month for more than 10 years, Mary Braun has brought her 11-year-old black lab, Sadie, to her second-grade classroom at Glacier Hills Elementary in Eagan to help students improve their reading skills. Braun retired at the end of the school year after 15 years in education. (Photo by Jessica Harper)

Sadie, an 11-year-old black lab, has been a fixture at Glacier Hills Elementary in Eagan for more than a decade. Children in Mary Braun’s second-grade class eagerly await her visits and a chance to read Sadie her favorite books.

But last week marked Sadie’s last visit, since Braun retired at the end of the school year.

“I feel it’s time to try other things,” Braun said.

Prior to becoming a teacher, Braun spent 15 years as a stay-at-home mother and child care provider. Yearning to begin a new career path, she earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Hamline University.

In 1999, she landed a teaching position at Oak Ridge Elementary School in Eagan. Two years later, Braun began teaching second grade at Glacier Hills.

“The most rewarding part is when kids come back years later and share what they liked best about my class,” Braun said.

She was among the first group of teachers hired by Principal Jeff Holten during his first year at Glacier Hills.

“The one thing about Mary is she brings a great deal of creativity to the school,” he said.

Twice a month Sadie joins Braun’s class to hear children individually read to her.

Sadie quickly became a popular guest. Even students who were once fearful of dogs quickly warmed up to the mild-mannered lab, Braun said.

More importantly, Braun said, children improved their reading skills and confidence by reading to Sadie.

“Dogs are nonjudgmental. Kids like that because they don’t feel pressure when reading,” Braun said.

The idea of having her students read to Sadie came to her after hearing that studies have shown reading to dogs can help young students improve their reading skills.

One 2013 study by the University of California found that young children who read with a therapy dog improved their reading skills by 12 percent over the span of a 10-week program when compared to children in the same program who didn’t read to dogs.

Principal Holten immediately agreed to the idea when Braun proposed bringing Sadie to school.

“I love dogs and loved the idea,” he said. “There’s a lot of evidence that a well-trained dog can help children be calm and build their confidence.”

After retiring, Braun said she plans to travel, spend time with her grandchildren and volunteer in her community.

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