SEL Program That Teaches Students to Promote Animal Rescue | The Mutt-i-grees Curriculum

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ANIMAL INNOVATIONS SHOW - EPISODE 39 - THOMAS FRISINA & JAYNE VITALE

SEL Program That Teaches Students to Promote Animal Rescue | The Mutt-i-grees Curriculum

People love pedigrees. In fact, according to a 2021 report, potential pet parents are willing to spend between $500 to $15,000 just for the chance to own a purebred dog.   Considering the seemingly higher value that people place on animals with pedigrees, North Shore Animal League America developed the Mutt-i-grees  Curriculum, an innovative Pre-K-Grade 12 social-emotional learning (SEL) program that aims to make a difference in students’ social and emotional well-being.   SEL Program That Teaches Students to Promote Animal Rescue | Mutt-i-Grees Curriculum   According to Thomas Frisina and Jayne Vitale, who both work as the Social Media and Outreach Coordinator for the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum and the Director of Education and Youth Programs at North Shore Animal League America, respectively,

“The mission of North Shore Animal League America was always: rescue, nurture, and adopt. But in the last couple of years, they added ‘educate’, so that’s what Tommy and I do. We believethe organization believes that this is the next chapter in animal welfare, it’s to now to educate, because how are we ever going to end euthanasia as a means of population control unless people understand what’s going on?”

  Although many people associate pets with pedigree with a higher status and greater monetary value, Thomas and Jayne themselves opined that pedigreed pets should not just be considered “better” for the sole reason that they cost more. Instead, they advise treating animals just like you’d do with people, such that one’s bank account—or, in this case, a pet’s pedigree—should not be the sole factor you should use to determine whether they’re a good thing or not.   To promote equity among pets and elevate the status of non-pedigree shelter pets, North Animal League America partnered with Yale University School of the 21st Century, which initially set out towards an SEL curriculum in an effort to address children’s mental health back then.   Jayne elaborated,

“In 2010, it (the curriculum) started… As we know, it’s higher now because of COVID, but one in five kids suffer from challenges with mental health. So, we thought, ‘What better way to do that than to bridge it with humane education?’ Now… most people think, ‘Oh, humane education is being nice to animals.’ But that’s really not the true definition of humane education. And it’s not the way that we arewe’re trying to educate, right, on what humane education truly is, which is caring about oneself, caring about others, environmental stewardship, social media responsibility, and taking action in your community.”

  Named one of the programs with the most impact as far as teaching social and emotional skills goes, the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum—which name, incidentally, was also inspired from the word “pedigree”—is also the educational mission of North Shore Animal League America and was designed to cultivate empathy, awareness, diversity, and resiliency to encourage a more humane future.   As a matter of fact, about 5,000 schools, libraries, after-school programs, homes, and communities have already been established in relation to the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum to make it easier for more and more people to make a difference.   SEL Program That Teaches Students to Promote Animal Rescue | Mutt-i-Grees Curriculum   Jayne and Thomas added,

“And that’s really the crux of ourthe curriculum, with service learning at its space… It’s all about showing that, no matter what… no matter your age, you can make positive change in your community happen…”

  The Mutt-i-grees Curriculum’s Ambassador Program, for instance, helps empower students to do something that would benefit rescue pets, such as promoting rescue or implementing other projects that would just be beneficial to them. The team simply gives the students’ respective schools a $500 grant to support their project and help get their initiative started.   So, whether you’re helping collect dog food, creating posters, or going to the shelter and volunteering, the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum team sees to it that children learn the importance of animal rescue and that they, even in their own little ways, have the power to make a positive difference not just in the lives of homeless animals but in their community as a whole.  

Learn more about the Mutti-i-grees Curriculum!

Visit their website at https://education.muttigrees.org/.

Have suggestions for who we should interview next?

Send us a message at [email protected]!

Tommy: I’m Tommy Frisina, and you’re tuned in to The Animal Innovations Show.

Chris: Excellent introduction. So, Tommy and Jane, why don’t you tell us who you are and how you’re innovating and helping animals.

Jayne: So, I’m Jayne Vitale. I’m the director of education and youth programs at North Shore Animal League America.

Tommy: And I’m Tommy Frisina. I’m the social media and outreach coordinator for the Mutt-i-grees curriculum.

Jayne: Just a little bit of background to the audience is like we said, we’re from North Shore Animal League America And the mission of North Shore Animal League Americ was always: Rescue, Nurture, and Adopt. But in the last couple of years, they’ve added: Educate. That’s what Tommy and I do.

The organization believes that this is sort of—this is the next chapter, right, in animal welfare. It’s now to educate.

North Shore Animal League America wanted to raise the status of the shelter pet. We all know the word “pedigree”, We love pedigrees, right? But pedigrees—they’re associated with pure bloodline, their monetary value. Therefore, they’re “better”. No, they’re not better because they’re monetary value— just like people, right?

No matter what you do, no matter who you are, your bank account does not make you a better person, as we all know.

We wanted to elevate the status of the shelter pet. So, as a play on the word pedigree, North Shore partnered with Yale University School of the 21st Century  and came up with the word “Mutt-i-gree.”

Because mutts kind of has an “Oh, you’re a mutt”—that kind of sense, you know, not so nice, right? So, Yale Road actually aggregated 12 curriculum—actual curriculum with lessons.

Our National Ambassador Program, which we love, because what that’s all about is: no matter what your age is, you have the power to make positive change happen in your community.

Tommy: So, what we do is we empower the students to do something good for rescue pets to promote rescue, to help these animals in any way that they can make a project out of it. We’ll support them with a $500 grant for their school to help get their initiative started. All we ask for is updates. Let us know what you’re doing. Let us know what kind of way you’re raising money. You’re collecting dog food, you’re creating posters. You’re going to the shelter and volunteering. There’s so many different things you can do. Make a public service announcement with your friends.

Jayne: The ambassadors during COVID, were knocking on the doors at Target. They were building websites. And the message from North Shore Animal League America is always: “Support your local shelter.”

So, we have a five-year-old ambassador in LA. We have a school in New York that has 21 ambassadors in one school, ranging from 5th, 6th, to 7th grade.

Chris: So, how does this work then, Tommy? Are the kids going and taking an online course, learning how they can get involved and help? I mean, give us a little bit more of the details.

Tommy: We leave it completely up to them. We don’t—there’s no course from us, it’s totally them coming up with the initiatives and putting their best foot forward.

Chris: So, the goal of education, then—how do you inform them as to what the challenges are? How do they even get started?

Tommy: We have the transition from going to schools to doing virtual tours and read-aloud, which, where we would—the read-alouds were when I would literally take my phone, go into a Zoom meeting with a class, put it up on a tripod, and read a book to them. And then after that, I would take the phone off the tripod and walk around our Adoption Center to show them all the animals.

Chris: Sounds like you guys are making this stuff available to other organizations that want to take this on. You’re sharing it and paying it forward.

Jayne: Absolutely. That’s what we say: “Please contact us. We’re here to support you 24/7”, which is unlike a lot of curriculums. And a lot of the animal welfare organizations have dropped the education part because it’s very hard to raise funds.

We’re one of the last ones standing as an animal welfare— an animal rescue and adoption organization providing an education platform.

Chris: So, now, how have you been able to measure the impact of these programs? It sounds like these things could take on lives of their own, right, as they get shared in different communities. How do you measure the impact that this has had?

Jayne: It’s difficult to measure the impact other than anecdotal—we see it. We know of stories. 

For instance, one of the first schools where we placed a dog, a child actually experienced hallucinations, one of the children. He hadn’t in school. He’d been doing really well. But one day in class, this started to happen, and they’ve experts that were trying first to help him. The next step was to call the ambulance.

But Terye, who ran the principal, said, “Wait. Let’s just wait one second. Punch Shelby, the dog, in.” As soon as Shelby came to the doorway, they didn’t bring Shelby over to the child. Shelby knew where to go. Shelby went right over to this little boy. Shelby had this stripe on the top of her head, got it to pat, the top of the dog’s head. Just kept stroking, stroking, and he came out of it.

But the numbers—the actual numbers—we’ve had some schools do it— It’s very difficult to measure social-emotional learning. The answer to your question—it’s really anecdotal.

And I always say—I’m telling you this, but you need to be like you don’t realize it until you’re there, and you experience what we saw when we did the Rikers’ prison program with the young men there, and you went into prison and worked with these guys and the dogs.

Tommy: We worked with these immigrant children who were coming from the Hispanic countries that didn’t speak any English, and we couldn’t really communicate with them. They would try to talk to us, and we just didn’t know what to do.

With the dog—they would play with the dogs, and then they would start trying to teach us their language. They were trying to communicate with us. It was great.

Like, we had the poster, the mood board of—it was an emotion board. Yes. It was pictures of the dogs with different expressions on their faces, and you had to match which expression the dog was feeling.

We had little bones cut out of paper, so we had them made in Spanish so the kids could read them, and they would match it up. And that way, we would start to learn some Spanish, so we could kind of communicate with them.

These kids would just open up, and some of them wouldn’t speak at all, and they started talking. They started talking about their stories. And one little girl asked if she could bring the dog with her into her lawyer’s office to talk because she just felt more comfortable with the dogs, so we let her bring the dog in.

Chris: So, tell me, where can people go to learn more about the program, get in contact with you guys?

Tommy: Well, you could follow us on Instagram and Twitter @MUTTIGREE, and like us on Facebook @TheMuttigreesCurriculum.

You can learn more about the curriculum at MUTTIGREES.ORG. And if you want to contact us, [email protected] goes right to me and Jane’s inbox.

Chris: Perfect! Well, that’s great. I’m really glad you guys came on. And this is a really cool program, and I’m really excited to see where it’s going to go next.

Jayne: Oh, thank you so much, Chris. And if there’s anything we can do on your platform to be part of that,  to support what you’re doing, we would love to help in any way that we can.

Chris: Well, thank you for that.

And before I wrap up, we’ll just remind our viewers and listeners that if you’ve got an innovative idea or somebody that I should talk to, have on the show, just go to INNOVATIONS.SHOW, and let me know, and we’ll get them on the show.

Thanks again, Tommy.

Thanks, Jane, for coming on. I really thank—

Jayne: No, thank you, from my heart to yours, Chris.

Tommy: Yeah, thanks, Chris.

Jayne: Thank you. Thanks so much. I hope this is just the first of a new relationship and a new partnership.

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