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Brooklyn High School Students Raise Awareness of Shelter Pets

With help from a dedicated educator, students in Brooklyn are making a difference in the lives of shelter animals. When she was a teenager, Antonia Mancini decided to volunteer at North Shore Animal League America. It changed her life. Today, as an English teacher and humane educator, she is teaching a whole new generation of teenagers what it means to connect to shelter animals in personal, meaningful ways.

Toni began using the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum at Martin Van Buren High School in Queens, NY, where she taught for four years. Now at the High School for Innovation in Advertising and Media (iAM) in Brooklyn, NY, she teaches creative writing and facilitates the school’s Mutt-i-grees Club. iAM is part of a select group of Career and Technical Education (CTE) schools in New York City that blend rigorous academics with real-life work skills.

Members of the Mutt-i-grees Club – fifteen 11th grade students – meet once a week for an hour to work on a variety of service learning projects. Because of the school’s focus on collaboration and advertising, Toni encourages students to use the communication skills they are learning in the classroom to educate their peers about important humane issues. Their first project? Raising awareness of the horrible atrocities taking place at puppy mills.

After researching the topic earlier this year, students created posters that included before and after photos of puppy mill rescues and came up with slogans to raise awareness of the abuse and neglect these dogs face. The club also held a donation drive to benefit puppy mill rescues at North Shore Animal League America.

Toni praises her school’s administration for their support of her efforts. “Other teachers are interested in what we’re doing and often comment on how engaged the students are,” she adds. Her club gives students a safe place to go after school, where they are accepted and share a common interest. The activities provide students with the opportunity to put academic skills into action (critical thinking skills, research), while improving social and emotional skills (cooperation, decision making, perspective taking) at the same time. Overall, the students are learning that they can make a difference.

The club’s most recent project required students to work in groups to research common misconceptions of pit bulls and bully breeds, an issue Toni finds especially relevant in the urban setting in which her students live. Each group presented their findings to the club and together they created a bulletin board to spread awareness to the rest of the school.

This spring, Toni hopes to try other collaborative projects with her students, including partnering with a local preschool to read children’s books that are written and illustrated by club members. She has also received a grant that will allow her students to visit North Shore Animal League America for a one-day intensive internship in March.

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