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Teacher of the Month: Kimberly Spanjol

This month’s featured teacher is Kimberly Spanjol, a mental health counselor and behavior analyst who works with students at Stephen Gaynor School in New York City.

Five years ago, Kim created the YAP (Youth Animal Protectors) Club, which she oversees with her colleague, Isis Schiller. The YAP Club has members in elementary and middle school and is currently working to expand to other age groups. Kim began incorporating Mutt-i-grees® lessons into the YAP curriculum at the end of the 2013-2014 academic year and club members collaborated with North Shore Animal League America on a variety of fundraising/adoption/education events. The Mutt-i-grees® Curriculum is a great fit for the children that Kim works with. She explains, “When I found the Mutt-i-grees® Curriculum last year it was the first program that focused on developing critical social emotional skills in children through working with animals in need that was so completely aligned with the values and mission of YAP Club. I love everything about the program!”

Kim uses the Mutt-i-grees® Curriculum to promote friendship development and help children develop social emotional skills, problem solving skills, and critical thinking skills. She believes that working with animals to teach these skills to the students she works with is important in many ways. Children can connect more easily and have a natural love and empathy for animals, which she takes great joy in developing and nurturing. Kim notes that it is often easier for children with social cognition deficits to develop empathy and other social emotional skills toward animals, and this can be built on to generalize toward people. Animals also know how to be in the present moment without being upset over the past or worrying about the future, and she uses them as examples when teaching these skills to children who may be struggling with anxiety and worry. Countless abused and neglected animals have stories that are amazing examples of resilience and forgiveness, another important example for children with similar experiences to help them understand and persevere through their own struggles. What is particularly significant, according to Kim, is the confidence that children gain while working with Mutt-i-grees®. She explains that children often feel like they have no voice and they are not listened to; however, when they learn that they can speak out on behalf of animals to create positive change, it is an incredibly empowering experience.

Kim is pleased to report that the students and families she works with have responded very positively to the word ‘Mutt-i-gree.’ She notes, “Language is important and this is an integral piece of the work - to create value in the minds of people of shelter animals and all animals - so that we treat them with the respect, reverence, and care they deserve. If we learn to treat animals well, we can also learn to treat each other and the environment we share well.”

YAP Club resumes this fall at Stephen Gaynor School and they are already planning many exciting events to help Mutt-i-grees®. Kim and her students are excited to be a Mutt-i-grees® school and look forward to expanding the Mutt-i-grees® message to reach as many young people as possible.

Keep up the great work, Kim!

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