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Developing a Dog Foster Program in 7th Grade

Written for FosterDogsNYC.com by Alexa Kaplan, 7th Grade Teacher at Quest to Learn. 

At Quest to Learn, students are immersed in game-like learning experiences throughout the school year. Learning happens by doing and learning feels like play. Twice a year, students participate in week-long intensive, independent projects where students apply acquired knowledge and skills to propose solutions to complex problems. This week-long experience is called “Boss Level,” to emulate the game-like experience of making it to the final level of a video game. Students are given the opportunity to choose their project from a list of brief descriptions. Students are required to rank these projects based on their own interests.

Says Christo Sims of Digital Is, “Unlike most canonical schooling practices, Boss Levels organize students’ activity around a shared purpose and they provide students with numerous opportunities for active and creative problem solving. Students, rather than educators, drive the process. Solutions are not defined beforehand and resources are not bound by the school’s walls. As a result, students have the opportunity to participate in the challenging, messy, collaborative, and open-ended processes that we believe characterize Connected Learning at its best.

Each teacher creates their own project for Boss Level. Teachers are encouraged to think about their passions and interests to develop a project. For me, it was simple: Animal Rescue. Since rescuing my 1-year-old Pit/lab mix, I have become very passionate about dog rescue and adoption. After researching about rescue and adoption extensively, I realized that there can never be enough rescue organizations. I felt that it would be a great experience for the children to learn about dog rescue and eventually create their own organizations to help get dogs into forever homes. I wanted the children to have a week-long experience that not only would teach them about the complex nature of animal rescue but also would engage students in empathy and compassion.

By the end of the week, I wanted the kids to come up with their own foster organizations. I planned the week to be equal parts research and visits from the experts. During the first day, students traveled to Sean Casey Animal Rescue in Brooklyn and walked two dogs who are waiting patiently for their forever homes. Upon returning to school, students watched Shelter Me, a film series about shelter pets improving the lives of those who adopt them. It was clear that students noticed that there needed to be a middle-man to help facilitate dogs going from shelter to forever homes-foster organizations and families.

The second day, students got a visit from Muddy Paws Rescue’s Executive Director Rachael Ziering and her furry friend Jack, who was adopted through her organization. Rachael spoke to the kids about the importance of foster families in the process of rescuing dogs and getting them into their forever homes. The students were mesmerized that a dog went from being homeless and sick to being healthy and loved in just a matter of time. It was clear that Rachael’s visit sparked a fire to continue to learn about how they can make their own version of a Muddy Paws Rescue!

Day 3’s focus was the importance of giving dogs the opportunity for a second chance at life. Students watched the film Second Chance Dogs, which explores the innovative work at the ASPCA’s Behavioral Rehabilitation Center. After watching, students were amazed that these dogs could overcome the fear and anxiety that they were suffering from for so long.

This was the perfect opportunity to have Sarah, Taylor, and Ellie from Foster Dogs’ Canines in the Classroom program come to visit!

Sarah and Taylor spoke to the kids about their amazing work with fostering and how they have changed the lives of so many dogs like Ellie! Ellie was a stray dog who was found in Puerto Rico with a badly injured leg.

Thanks to [Animal Lighthouse Rescue] and the loving humans in her life, Ellie has transformed into a healthy little girl who just loves to give kisses and show off her awesome ‘roll-over’ skills for belly rubs!

Sarah also introduced the kids to Beaker and Penny, two of her organization’s current foster dogs on the site [fostered through NYC ACC]. She asked the kids to make the dogs a personalized collar and leash. The kids happily obliged and took their time making sure their designs were fashionable and flawless.

While watching them work, it was clear that my students were starting to realize that this project could have a real impact on the lives of animals. They were so inspired, they wanted to get to work right away on developing their foster organizations.

The students came up with the requirements for their foster organizations right away. Students wanted to create a unique name and background for their organizations, as well as animals that they would have for adoption. Students also came up with frequently asked questions about fostering and answered them using all the knowledge they gained from Sarah, Foster Dogs NYC, and the other organizations they engaged with during the week. The kids even came up with their own social media handles and websites!

They took this project to much higher heights than I had anticipated. For example, one group dedicated their organization to the rescue of Pit Bulls to combat the negative stigma associated with this specific breed. Another group based their organization around the rescue of stray animals after Superstorm Sandy. It was so inspiring and encouraging to see my students so passionate about something that has bettered the lives of so many people and animals.

Ultimately, I am hoping that this project encouraged my students to advocate for the adoption of rescue dogs. It is so important to me to instill empathy and compassion in our students through the rescue of stray/shelter dogs. I hope that my students can educate their peers about the negative stigma associated with shelter animals and can motivate others to continue to save animals that have had unfortunate beginnings and are looking for their forever homes.


Learn more about Canines in the Classroom, to reserve a summer visit for your school!

Earning her Canine Good Citizen certification, to visit schools!

This visit featured Canine Good Citizen Ellie. Remember Perla, the injured dog we posted in December 2015? This is her!

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