- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 27, 2016

RUSTON, La. (AP) - Ruston third- through fifth-graders recently received a surprise chance to not only read and discuss books with Louisiana Tech University athletes, but also learn from the athletes what it takes to be a college student.

Dogs with A Cause is a partnership between Tech’s College of Education and its athletics program that brings athletes to the classroom to help build the necessary skills in education, said Amy Vessel, director of Tech’s Clinical Residency Center.

The program started after Tech’s men’s basketball coach Eric Konkol mentioned to Temple Baptist Church College Minister Casey Casady how he wished there was a way to plug his team into the community.

“In the past, I’ve always tried to find opportunities to get my team involved in the community, work with one another as a team to bond with the public,” Konkol said.

That is when Casady recommended speaking with Vessel.

After only a few hours, Dogs with A Cause was developed combining the College of Education’s clinical residents and the Tech basketball team.

Their first stop: Ruston Elementary School.

“We wanted to start small, so I suggested the team adopt Ruston Elementary (Teacher Educators and Mentors) Model clinical residency site,” Vessel said.

The “unique collaboration” between the College of Education and Tech’s athletics department allows the residents to switch roles and serve as mentors to the athletes as well, Vessel said.

Once a quarter, during the last hour of the day, all 30 elementary residents mentor the student-athletes in the classroom.

Under the direction of Vessel, the residents developed their own Dogs with a Cause Character Building curriculum, Vessel said.

The curriculum consists of award-winning children’s books and a questionnaire to engage the students with the athletes on what they learned from the book, said Kristen Seal, president of the clinical residency program.

“But when you see the students’ faces when the players come in, they’re just in shock,” she said. “These athletes show the kids what hard work and determination gives you.”

Ruston Elementary principal Amy Brister said the program is a great way to connect with the community and the kids love to see the basketball team - especially seeing how tall they are.

“They’re just enamored with them,” she said. “But I think having the basketball team gives them the opportunity to see others who wanted to go to college, get experience and love to read.”

Currently, only Ruston Elementary and Cypress Springs Schools are participating in the program, Vessel said.

The basketball team adopted Ruston Elementary and Tech’s baseball team agreed to read at Cypress Springs Elementary.

“It has been a wonderful way for the College of Education to collaborate with our own athletic program and share the hard work that goes into teaching children in the classroom,” Vessel said. “I think this has been an eye-opening experience for these athletes.”

The future of the program looks bright as both Vessel and Konkol said they would like to see the program expand.

With most of the athletics programs on board, that dream looks to be a reality soon.

___

Information from: Ruston Daily Leader, http://www.rustonleader.com/

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