Second grade teacher Kensey Jones wanted her students to write something that could have a real impact when she thought about this year's persuasive writing assignment.
So she approached the director of the animal shelter where she volunteers.
“How do you feel about the second graders writing persuasive paragraphs through the eyes of one of the shelter animals?” Jones, 42, who teaches at St. Michael’s Episcopal School in Richmond, Virginia, asked.Shelter director Christie Peters loved the idea — and so did city residents. Of the 24 animals (23 dogs and one cat) that Jones’ students drew pictures of and wrote persuasive essays about, most have been adopted.
“The speed in which they were adopted after we did this promotion really gives merit to it,” Peters, 44, director of Richmond Animal Care and Control, told TODAY Parents. “These were dogs that were overlooked for some time and the (essays) really did bring people into the shelter and maybe make them think about those dogs and the one cat in a different light.”
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Jones and Peters thought it would be best for the children to write about animals that were harder to adopt, for various reasons.
“We were very careful to include animals that were not easily adoptable — animals that maybe are older, maybe had a health issue in the past, they just require a little extra TLC, maybe needed to be an only pet in the home,” Jones explained. “I then sat down with the class and told them about each of the dogs and a little bit about their personality and then assigned each student an animal.”
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To help them prepare, Peters brought a puppy, Snow, to school. The students loved it. Playing with Snow and learning how the shelter operates inspired them to write convincingly for their dogs. Parker Witthoefft, 7, was assigned a dog named Missy (that he hoped his family would adopt). While Missy didn't go home with Parker, she was one of the first dogs to be adopted.
“Writing is not always the first thing that they’re drawn to,” mom Jaclyn Witthoefft, 40, of Richmond, told TODAY Parents. “Parker was chomping at the bit. He had so much fun connecting with the story and with the dogs.”
Witthoefft believesParker will always remember this assignment, and said it also reinforced the lessons about empathy she teaches her children.
“I am always asking my children to ‘put yourself in somebody else’s shoes,’” she said. “This was exactly that. It might not have been a human shoe, but it was paws, and they had to put themselves in that dog's place or that cat’s place and think about what you want to persuade someone based on the personality and needs of that animal.”
The essays show how the students really excelled at understanding their pets.
“Hi, I’m Gail Weathers. I would like a home so much. I have a fine life here but I would like my own dog bed a lot. I would like a toy and a big yard. I would like to be the only pet in the home.”
“Hi, my name is Sleigh Ride. Do you want to adopt me? You can train me if you want. Can you put a heart on my collar. I am a girl. Who are you? You can snuggle with me. I promise that I will be a good dog. You can even sleep with me if you want. I love going on walks and playing outside. I am a medium sized dog. I’m getting bored at this place. Would you love me forever? Love, a cute puppy.”
Every day since the shelter project started, Jones updates the students on who was adopted.
“I have heard — not directly from an adopter but by word of mouth — that our writings did impact them to adopt from RACC and it just really tugged at their heart strings,” she said.
Peters, whose son Max, 8, is in Jones’ class, hopes that shelters across the country consider similar partnerships with their local schools. She says it's a win-win that requires no extra funding for marketing to make it work.
“The stories and the illustrations were just so adorable and really cute and written from such a wonderful perspective,” she said. “It really was a huge benefit.”
Jones, who volunteers weekly at the shelter by walking and spending time with the dogs, also hopes this idea grows.
“I would love for this idea to be spread to any other teachers, local shelters that could partner together to do something hopefully to get more pets homes,” she said. “As an educator my biggest hope and dream is that I want the students to know no matter how young you are, you can put your mind to something and you can make a true difference.”