Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

March 23, 2014

Partying for the pooches

Projects teach social, emotional, fundraising skills

ASHLAND — Five schools that use a new curriculum that builds on children’s affinity for pets are planning fundraising parties in the hope their efforts will benefit local animal shelters.

The schools include Boyd County Middle and Oakview and Ponderosa elementaries, and the preschool programs at Ashland Community and Technical College and the Ashland YMCA, according to coordinator Norma Meek.

The schools use the Mutt-i-grees curriculum, which teaches social and emotional skills through interaction with animals. The program was developed by the North Shore Animal League America and the Pet Savers Foundation, which collaborated with Yale University’s School of the 21st Century.

The parties will be the first Friday in May and parents and community members will be invited to learn about the Mutt-i-grees curriculum.

The fundraising part comes courtesy of ceramic figurines the children are painting in class and will have for sale.

Half of the money the children raise will fund Mutt-i-grees implementation and half will go to the Ashland Animal Rescue Fund and the county animal shelter.

There is a chance the parties will attract one of the animal world’s celebrities, namely Cesar Millan, host of the TV show “Dog Whisperer.”

Millan and Warner Bros., which is sponsoring a nationwide Tour for Life to benefit the spread of the Mutt-i-grees curriculum, are choosing a limited number of venues to visit. Warner Bros. also is lending the likeness of its famed cartoon pooch Scooby Doo as the theme of the parties.

The tour will cover more than 17,000 miles and stop in more than 50 cities.

Oakview launched the curriculum this year in first and second grades and plans to expand it next year, said Courtney Gilbert, who teaches second grade there. Among other things, her students observe Furry Fridays where they talk over how to solve problems with their friends.

Her students also have entered a tree to the Paramount Arts Center’s Festival of Trees and Trains to promote pet adoption.

She already has noticed changes, she said. “Children are more aware of other people’s feelings and how their actions affect others,” she said.

Ponderosa Elementary piloted the program in northeastern Kentucky five years ago, said teacher Stephanie Lyons. She uses stuffed animals to build skill and enthusiasm for reading; during reading time children read to their stuffed friends.

The activity works because when reading to an animal, even a stuffed one, children feel safe and are more willing to try new things, she said.

They also learn people, like dogs and cats, differ from one another and come in different, sizes, shapes and colors, and with differing abilities, she said.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.

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