“How are you feeling today?”
“What might help to cheer someone up when they are feeling anxious or sad?”
Students in Robin Rodriguez’s kindergarten classroom in Pacoima, CA, begin each week discussing their answers to questions like these as a way to learn about each other and begin to understand empathy and compassion as part of the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum. Robin, who is a member of the Mutt-i-grees leadership team at Fenton Primary Center, one of the original pilot sites for the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum, teaches a Mutt-i-grees lesson every Monday.
“I get the loudest cheer every Monday when I put the Mutt-i-gree schedule card up on our daily routine,” Robin explains excitedly. “Loving animals, especially those in need, comes natural to 5 and 6 year olds. My students beg to read more books and cats and dogs and never tire of hearing my stories about my own cats or telling their stories.”
Robin is one of the first educators in the country to implement lessons from Cats are Mutt-i-grees 2, one of our newest educational initiatives. A companion to the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum, Cats are Mutt-i-grees 2 can be used as a freestanding educational program or to extend the lessons in the core Curriculum. The activities included enable students to become aware of cat characteristics and behavior as well as the needs of cats, especially those awaiting adoption at animal shelters.
For Robin, using the Cats are Mutt-i-grees 2 lessons alongside the core lessons helped her to reach students at their interest level. “Some students gravitate more towards dogs, while others have a special heart for cats. This curriculum really supports both,” she explains. Her favorite part is the Cat Dialog feature lessons. Similar to the Dog Dialog feature lessons in the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum, the Cat Dialog lessons introduce students to basic aspects of feline characteristics and behavior. The lessons provide a context within which teachers can offer ways for students to get to know and encourage empathy for cats.
“Cats are such unique animals and many people find them harder to understand than dogs,” says Robin. “The Cat Dialogs really helped my students understand cat behavior. We loved reading about why cats straighten their tails or what they are saying when they rub their heads up against people. The lessons are filled with information and great vocabulary, but written in a way that even my kindergarten [students] can understand.”
Robin’s students are well aware of the needs of homeless animals, as their school is part of a community with a large population of feral and stray cats. “We talk a lot about street cat safety and what to do when you find a cat on the streets,” Robin explains. “This is very relevant issue for my students.”
In fact, this year, Robin’s class had an opportunity to put the lessons they learned from the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum into action. In September, Robin and her students rescued a young kitten from the street during school dismissal. They comforted the scared cat, who they named Henry, and Robin brought him to the vet to tend to his medical needs. A friend of Robin’s fostered Henry for a month until he found a responsible, loving home with a Fenton teaching assistant.
Rescuing Henry had a profound impact on Robin’s students. She says two children rescued other cats from the street and families in her community are making the responsible choice to adopt from animal shelters rather than buying pets from pet stores. “I really believe that the firsthand experience of helping save Henry shaped my students’ view of animals and how we can be responsible citizens,” Robin says.