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Mutt-i-grees® in the News Winter 2015

Dear Colleagues,

The arrival of a new year brings with it the opportunity to make positive changes and establish new routines. This year, we challenge each of you to focus on nurturing a climate of kindness and compassion with the children you work with. And this begins with you!

What we say to ourselves and the way we think about things can have a profound impact on our lives and the people around us. And studies show that people who are optimistic and think positively are healthier and less stressed, which leads to better overall well-being, and, in turn, a calmer classroom climate. Remember, one of the best ways to teach social and emotional skills is by modeling the desired outcomes for your students.

So, this year we challenge you to pay attention to the way in which you talk to yourself and encourage you to start cultivating affirmative thoughts and minimizing negative self-talk. In other words, think positive about yourself and this will show up in your demeanor and your interactions with your students! Try it out this month and see what happens. Shifting a mindset can be difficult at first, but it's a little thing that can make a big difference.

What's Happening at Mutt-i-grees Schools & Libraries

Mutt-i-grees Student Raises $1,000 For Animals In Need

A Mutt-i-grees student in New York City, named Kaia, is making a difference; inspiring selfless acts from those around her and, in doing so, raising money for animals in need.

Kaia is a member of the YAP Club at Stephen Gaynor Middle School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. YAP, or Youth Animal Protectors, uses the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum to enhance their humane education instruction; teaching students empathy, compassion, problem-solving, and related social and emotional skills through learning about animal protection issues.

Moved by what she learned about shelter dogs in school, this 11-year-old took it upon herself to start a Trash for Cash Challenge in which people find things around their houses that they're willing to part with, sell them, and then donate 100% of the profits to animal causes. With her mom's promise to match any gifts she secured for animals, Kaia sold her Nintendo DS for $100 and then began encouraging other young people to do the same.

"Someday if everyone starts doing things like this, animals will be much more respected and get much more help," she says. "They can't speak for themselves, so we have to do it for them and let people know what is happening to them!"

Kaia has now raised $1,000 by selflessly selling possessions, securing matching gifts from adults, and - most recently - selling bracelets and tiles she's made in her local park. She plans to donate that money to the Help Me Heal Program at North Shore Animal League America.

For ideas on how your students can help Mutt-i-grees in your community, please visit

Inspire a Love of Reading with Mutt-i-grees

Ruff, the Mutt-i-gree puppet and mascot at Herr Memorial Library in Mifflinburg, PA, loves reading with the library's young patrons! Inspired by the activity ideas in the Mutt-i-grees in the Library binder, Children's Program Coordinator Lorie Hernesh has integrated the plush dog puppet into a variety of programs for children and families.

Ruff has become so popular that the library ran its first ever Ruff's Readers "Read to Your Pet" photo contest this fall. Families were able to enter photos of children of all ages reading a book to their pet(s) (real or plush). Library staff, patrons, and the town's mayor voted to choose the winners, which Lorie was kind enough to share with us below. What a fun way to inspire a lifelong love of reading!

1st place: Labrador "Read-Trievers”
2nd place: "Reading Buddy" 3rd place: "Storytime”

Mutt-i-grees Teen Council Partners with Local Shelter

Layne Meek has been busy over the past few months, helping homeless animals in his community. As part of his platform as Mutt-i-grees Student Ambassador, Layne organized a Mutt-i-grees Teen Council, of which he was voted President. The Teen Council consists of a group of thirty students from six different middle schools and high schools in Kentucky that have each pledged to work directly with the Ashland Animal Rescue Fund (AARF) to help shelter animals in their community. Layne is excited at this opportunity to promote collaboration by students from various backgrounds. Many council members have already signed up to present to local organizations about the needs of Mutt-i-grees in their communities and others held creative fundraisers over the holiday season, raising hundreds of dollars in the month of December to benefit homeless animals in Kentucky. We can't wait to hear what these motivated teens will do next!

Family Service Volunteer Day Benefits Indiana Shelter

This fall, Northaven Elementary in Jeffersonville, IN hosted a Family Service Volunteer Day, which provided students, together with their families, a wonderful avenue to learn about and help Mutt-i-grees in their community, and, at the same time, develop 21st century leadership skills. As part of the school district's Positive Behavior Intervention and Support and College and Career Readiness programs, P.R.I.D.E. skills - including problem-solving, respect, initiative, dependability, and efficiency - must be taught and positively reinforced at all schools in the district to help students prepare for success in school and the business world. This event - and the lessons in the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum - provided students with the opportunity to develop these skills in a real word context.

The Family Service Volunteer Day offered a variety of creative fundraisers to benefit the local shelter and engage families. One popular activity, Hoops for Hounds, was a favorite among students. Families found sponsors to donate money for each hoop they scored and then worked as a team to see how many hoops they could score within a three minute time period. Families also made dog treats to donate to the local shelter and designed pet adoption posters in the hopes of raising awareness about the needs of homeless animals in the community. The event was a tremendous success with several dozen dog biscuits taken to the shelter, 22 pet adoption posters created to bring community awareness of the plight of shelter animals, and more than $1,000 in donations collected for the shelter. Jeffersonville's mayor, Mike Moore, praised the students for taking initiative to help their community and encouraged other schools to follow their lead. He was so impressed, he even stopped by to congratulate the students in person!

Perhaps the even greater success was the lasting impact participation in this event will have on Northaven families. "It was amazing to see all of the children and parents working together toward a common goal - and having so much fun while doing it!" said Northaven Principal Tonja Brading. Brooklyn Yates, a kindergarten student at Northaven, will have a lasting reminder of the event - her family adopted a kitten from the shelter that day. Her mother Sarah shared, "Brooklyn loves animals. This was a great way for us to do something together as a family that was for a good cause."

Keeping You Informed

Common Core: An Opportunity to Focus on SEL

As educators, you're all too familiar with the Common Core State Standards and their impact on education. Often, they are viewed as isolated from social and emotional learning; however, experts suggest that implementation of Common Core provides a unique opportunity to focus on SEL skills. In a recent article, Maurice Elias, a psychology professor at Rutgers University and director of the Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, argues that students' social and emotional learning is critical to Common Core success. The area of vocabulary, he explains, is a prime example of the importance of SEL skills to successful Common Core implementation. Students who have a more nuanced understanding of emotions (feeling words) are more likely to see a deeper meaning in the literature they read and therefore are more likely to be engaged in it. Rather than viewing SEL and academic skills as separate or competing competencies, Elias asks us to think of ways in which these skills can complement each other to prepare students to become productive members of society. And, as we all know, emotional literacy is essential to students' future academic success.

Why Is Play Important?

In a time when a great deal of value is placed on testing and scores, it can be easy to let time for free play drop to the bottom of your list of classroom priorities. However, research shows that spending time playing can have a major impact on children's cognitive and emotional development. Allowing children time to use their imagination actually helps them to develop the ability to self-regulate their emotions and behavior and make better decisions. And, of course, children who are able to manage their feelings and pay attention are better able to learn. Take some time this week to think about ways in which you can incorporate more time for pretend play and creative learning in your classroom and be sure to share your ideas with us!

Building Resiliency: How You Can Help

We know that what happens at home shapes children's school experience; you've probably seen this firsthand with the students you work with. Current research is supporting the idea that a difficult home environment impacts peer relationships and students' problem-solving skills. In a recent study, researchers found that exposure to chronic poverty, household chaos, and verbal and physical aggression between parents may take a substantial toll on children's social and emotional development, specifically the ability to recognize and modulate negative emotions such as sadness, anxiety, and fear. Teaching social and emotional skills in the classroom provides an opportunity to expose students from all backgrounds to various coping skills to help manage stress and build resiliency, which is the cornerstone of the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum.

Behind the Scenes

What We're Reading:

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
*School Library Journal Best Book 2014

From the award-winning author of A Dog's Life: Autobiography of a Stray and Everything for a Dog comes another heartwarming story of the power of human animal interaction. Rose Howard has OCD, Asperger's syndrome, and an obsession with homonyms (even her name is a homonym!). She has difficulty making friends at school and feels disconnected from her peers. When her father brings a lost dog home, Rose finds a best friend and companion. She gives her new dog a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein), which, according to Rose's rules of homonyms, is very special.

Just as a storm hits town, Rain goes missing. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search. Readers will root for Rose as she struggles to be accepted by her father and classmates. Educators can use this book to promote discussion about empathy or to encourage inclusion activities. The focus on homonyms proves an opportunity to build students' vocabulary. Best for students in grades 4-6.

Meet a Mutt-i-gree: Shelby

A few months ago, the Mutt-i-grees outreach team visited I.S. 14 Shell Bank Intermediate School in Brooklyn, NY with several puppies to hold an interactive and informative assembly. The students and teachers there - already fully immersed in the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum - greatly enjoyed the presentation. And what's more, Denise Atwood, a 6th grade teacher in attendance, adopted one of the puppies from North Shore Animal League America that was present that day!

This pup, now named "Shelby" after the middle school where she works, has become a daily fixture at the school and a valuable addition to both its faculty and student body. She serves as a physical reinforcement of all the social/emotional lessons the students learn through Mutt-i-grees; bringing together students from diverse backgrounds with her nonjudgmental, loving ways; while simultaneously serving to calm the students, brighten their moods and focus them in more on their studies. She also works to combat harmful preconceptions that many of the students have about dogs as a result of exposure to guard and attack dogs in their New York City neighborhoods.

When Shelby is not working with kids in the classroom, she is either walking outside with one of a long list of faculty volunteers who relish spending time with her or relaxing in the spacious pen that Shell Bank principal and Labrador enthusiast Teri Ahearn has set up for Shelby in her office. Then, at night, Shelby heads home with her new mother, Denise, who is completely head-over-heels for her. We are proud to include Shelby in the growing list of teaching Mutt-i-grees at schools around the country.

On the Horizon: Study of the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum in Oklahoma

Last year, several schools and afterschool programs in Oklahoma began implementing the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum. Since then, the Kirkpatrick Foundation, an organization whose mission is to make Oklahoma one of the safest and most humane places to be an animal, has praised the Curriculum as an effective and innovative approach to making a difference in the lives of animals. In addition, during the past year, the Foundation has promoted the growth of Mutt-i-grees in the state. The response has been outstanding, with dozens of schools, libraries, and afterschool programs now implementing the program. In the next few months, the Mutt-i-grees evaluation team will be initiating a study to document the growth of the program in Oklahoma and its impact at the individual, family, and community levels. We look forward to sharing the results with you!

New Book Highlights the Power of Compassion

When Beth Stern first met Yoda at the animal shelter, he was skinny and his fur was matted. He hid in the back of his cage and wanted nothing to do with anyone. But Beth took him home, cleaned him up, and gave him love. Beth fosters kittens, too, and before long Yoda discovered them - and his life purpose. Now he's happy, and fluffy, and very, very busy. He makes sure the orphan kittens eat, he keeps them safe, and he even cleans up after them. Taking care of others has helped him, too; even though Yoda has a serious heart condition, he's made a miraculous turnaround and is healthier than doctors thought he could be, all thanks to the power of compassion.

Yoda's inspirational story is documented in Beth's new picture book, Yoda: The Story of a Cat and His Kittens, which has touched the hearts of families around the country. Since its publication this fall, children have been writing to us about the ways in which Yoda's story has impacted them and we are so moved by their stories. If you have read Yoda's book with your class, please share your students' responses with us at [email protected].

Stay Connected: Upcoming Conferences and Trainings

February 3, 2015
Statewide Expanded Learning Summit
NorthPointe Hotel and Conference Center
100 Green Meadows Drive South
Lewis Center, OH 43035

March 5, 2015
Mutt-i-grees Orientation & Basic Training
Middle Country Public Library
Selden Branch
575 Middle Country Road
Selden, NY 11784

March 8-11, 2015
National Afterschool Association Conference
Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center
201 Waterfront Street
National Harbor, MD 20745

March 26, 2015
Mutt-i-grees Orientation & Basic Training
Monroe Township Public Library
4 Municipal Plaza
Monroe Township, NJ 08831

March 27, 2015
2015 New York Library Association Youth Services Section Conference
Islandia Marriot Long Island
3635 Express Drive North
Islandia, NY 11749

April 16, 2015
Mutt-i-grees Orientation & Basic Training
Fairleigh Dickinson University
Lenfell Hall
285 Madison Avenue
Madison, NJ 07940

May 1, 2015
Arizona Professors of Educational Administration Annual Convention
Phoenix, AZ

For a complete list of all upcoming events, please visit

Don't forget to let us know if you have changed schools and/or your email has changed! Keep in touch with us at [email protected].