Student brings sheep to school as reward for meeting reading goal

FB32B52A F88A 4AC8 9E75 3142D278382CJOHNSTON, Ia. (May 16, 2022) — For years, Wallace Elementary fifth grader Eric Matheson didn’t want to read and had difficulty meeting the benchmark in the FAST reading assessment. 

“Eric has really struggled with meeting that benchmark year after year,” said his mom, Andrea Matheson.

But Eric loved taking care of and showing his sheep. He even has an app on his phone that he can monitor them by video during the day.

So Wallace Principal Suzie Pearson challenged Eric: If he meets his reading goal, he’d be allowed IMG 5586to bring his sheep to school. That was all it took to motivate him. Before that, it was like pulling teeth to get him to read 20 minutes, his mom said. But ever since setting that goal, Eric has been reading a full hour each night. Photos taken by his family even show him reading to his sheep. Not only did it help Eric with his reading, it also helped the sheep to know Eric’s voice.

Wallace students and teachers, including Kris Dunn and Melissa Keeney-Johnston, cheered Eric on. This spring, Eric reached his reading goal. And on Monday morning, he got to bring six of his sheep to school and show them to all of the Wallace fifth-graders out in the parking lot.

“I have been into sheep since the 2nd grade,” Eric said. “I’m just one of the only people in the entire school that’s participating in farm animals and livestock, and I wanted them to see what farm life would be like.”

IMG 5623First students got to meet a Mocha, a sheep that Eric has shown through 4-H at the county fair (along with sheep family members Cocoa, Hershey and Snickers). Then, students went inside a trailer to meet Isabella, Peanut, and three 3- to 4-month-old lambs — Johnny, Jasmine and Jenny.

Students commented how fluffy the lambs are. Eric proudly described how through a breed up program, these sheep are 75% Valais Blacknose from Switzerland, and 25% Scottish Blackface. They’re kept at a farm in Marshalltown, and Eric participates in about 10 shows each year. Some of the sheep are sold for breeding, while others are sold as pets.

Today, Eric’s reading has improved — and his classmates at Wallace finally got to meet his sheep.

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