Project Mickey, a partnership between Jasmine’s House and Dr. Bernard Harris, Sr. Elementary School in Baltimore City, ran for the first time this spring. The curriculum was written specifically for Project Mickey and was designed to teach these students about the needs of pets, how to remain safe around dogs, the basics of clicker training and positive reinforcement, and using nonverbal behaviors to understand animals. The program focused on dispelling myths about Pit Bulls while sharing information that can be generalized to all breeds. The program emphasized building empathy through the use of biblio-therapy, sharing of person stories and increasing feeling vocabulary. The most critical component of this program was its experiential nature, which brought three CGC dogs (Ghost, Jack and Minnie), one therapy dog (Kaida) and one puppy (Rocky) into the school. Students learned about each dog’s story, some of which included abuse, neglect and discrimination. Each visit allowed for our students to have positive interactions with these dogs and to form bonds that were expressed in the children’s words, writing and art work during the course of the program.
Donations provided snacks and drinks for the students, arts materials, and rewards for the students at the end of the program. Each student received an awesome Jasmine’s House t-shirt, two types of posters (some which were donated from Show Your Soft Side) and various dog care supplies for students who had pets at home. Jasmine’s House coordinated the support of a team of volunteers who provided photography, videography and moral support for every session. Additionally, Jasmine’s House’s trainer, Meghan Longhurst, attended every session, donating her time and expertise to the program. Meghan was able to rescue a puppy named Rocky from a Prince George’s County shelter hours before he would have been euthanized, simply for being a pitbull. Rocky was then able to join the class for their lesson on Clicker Training and was taught to sit on command. The students learned appropriate ways to encourage positive behaviors in their pets and also about the harsh realities of unfair breed specific legislation.
Fifteen 5th grade students successfully completed the 8-session course which culminated in a final project. In the final session, students were asked to present what they have learned to a group of parents and guests at a closing program. After recalling all that they have learned, students were given the opportunity to select a topic that was important to them and an audience with whom to share this information. Some students worked on writing the content of the final program by summarizing all of their lessons and then presenting it to the audience. Twelve of the 15 students decided that they wanted to create larger projects for additional audiences. One group spoke about the negative effects of dog fighting on the people, animals and community and passed out flyers giving information on how to anonymously report suspected dog fighting. A second group combined the class’s illustrations of dog safety tips into a book and prepared a lesson for younger students on how to stay safe around unfamiliar dogs. They even included Buddy, the stuffed dog used to teach them how to appropriately greet a new dog, into their lesson. Two students decided that they wanted to send a message to elected officials regarding the truth about pit bulls in the wake of the Court of Appeals decision. They wrote a short script and recorded a video message that highlights some of the important facts that they learned in Project Mickey. Another group, consisting of only two students, managed to plan and execute a fundraiser called “Smooch the Pooch” to benefit the medical fund at Jasmine’s House. The two students challenged their classmates to bring in spare change and convinced their assistant principal to kiss one of the program’s guest dogs if the school was able to raise over $200. When the students met their goal, the assistant principal stayed true to his word and received a big kiss from Kaida, the therapy dog, in front of an audience of other school children.
Students completed pre and post-test questionnaires about their attitudes and knowledge. What the data shows is that the students who enrolled in Project Mickey generally had positive feelings towards dogs but lacked knowledge. However, following their participation in Project Mickey, we saw the following changes:
• Following this program, students continued to report that they were comfortable with familiar dogs but largely felt more comfortable with unfamiliar dogs. Twenty percent of students indicated they were very comfortable with unfamiliar dogs before Project Mickey, compared with 47% afterwards.
• Before Project Mickey, about half of the students indicated that they felt Pit Bulls were a little more dangerous than other breeds. After Project Mickey, 93% of the students reported that they felt Pit Bulls were no more dangerous than other dogs.
• After Project Mickey, all of our students felt strongly that they could teach others about dogs, compared with 75% before.
• Following Project Mickey, our students were able to identify 40% more feeling words and 40% more needs of pets.
• Students were able to name at least 2 important facts about dog training, 4 different ways to stay safe around unfamiliar dogs, 2 ways to tell how a dog is feeling based on behavior, at least 2 facts about Pit Bulls, approximately 2 examples of abuse or neglect and at least 2 consequences of dog fighting. This represents twice as many (and sometimes up to four times as many) correct answers than before their completion of Project Mickey.
Students, parents, administrators and volunteers shared extremely positive feedback on the program and the current plan is to run the program in the Fall and Spring of the 2012-2013 school year. Heidi Trasatti, the school psychologist at Dr. Bernard Harris, Sr. Elementary, and facilitator of many of the lessons, plans to refine the curriculum over the summer and looks forward to expanding the program to other schools.
The goal of our first run of this program was to increase understanding and build empathy and our data shows that we met these goals. However, our students were able to demonstrate even greater accomplishments that are not as easily measured by a questionnaire- exhibiting spontaneous compassion and advocacy for animals. We are extremely proud of them and our pilot class will always be remember for what they have taught as, as much as they will for what they learned.