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5453da23cbc88 Logo for Des Moines Doggy Daily.
Logo for Des Moines Doggy Daily.

Delaware Elementary 4th Graders Create Newspaper with CritterKin Author

November 01, 2014

Seventy-five 4th graders and their teachers at Delaware Elementary School embarked on an innovative way to spread a message about what it takes to “Be Kind” to animals in their school and community this year. The students are creating a newspaper - The Des Moines Doggy Daily – with popular author/illustrator Jena Ball of the CritterKin book series, and the help of the humane educator and behavior trainer from the Animal Rescue League of Iowa (ARL).

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5453da23cbc88Students work on their newspaper assignments.
Students work on their newspaper assignments.

The heart of the CritterKin books series, which revolves around a pack of goofy, fun-loving mixed breed mutts and their quirky trainer Ms. Jenaia, is the simple belief that Critters (animals) are Kin (family.)  "The newspaper is a great way to combine kids' intrinsic kindness and natural love of animals with activities designed to teach both emotional and intellectual skills," says Ball. "The project also empowers students to make a difference in the lives of animals."

Teacher Jennifer Houlette agrees, saying, "We are focusing on an overall theme of 'kindness' this year and this project has helped us tie the theme into our reading and writing activities, making it a great learning project."

Each week for six weeks the students have gathered before a giant screen to listen as Jena Ball reads another chapter about Lance the misunderstood pit bull from her book, Lead with Your Heart. The author reads from her home in North Carolina, and visits the class via Google's video sharing technology, Google Hangouts. Google Hangouts allow her to talk, take pictures, share documents, and record the sessions with the students for YouTube.

While reading and discussing Lance's story, which revolves around overcoming prejudice and fear with the help of kids, ideas for the newspaper have taken shape. So far the enterprising fourth graders have:

  • named and created a logo for their paper;
  • applied for and been assigned jobs on the paper (reporter, photographer, editor, reviewer, etc.);
  • researched, interviewed, and photographed staff members at the ARL;
  • written bios and blogs, and drawn portraits of dogs who need homes for the Classified section of the paper;
  • interviewed and photographed Jena Ball/aka Ms. Jenaia for a profile piece;
  • begun work on the Editorial Page where they will debate the pros and cons of breed specific legislation related to pit bulls;
  • begun working on Book Reviews of Lead With Your Heart.

“My students are really enjoying this project and look forward to our weekly Google Hangouts with Jena. They are excited to make a difference in the lives of animals and are all extremely engaged,” says Julie Campbell, one of the fourth grade teachers working on the project.  

Thanks to a visit by ARL Humane Educator Cicely Gordon and her rescue dog, Foxie, students learned about the organization's ongoing needs for food,

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5453da23cbc88CritterKin author Jena Ball.
CritterKin author Jena Ball.

bedding, and toys, and decided to add a donation drive to their list of activities. The “Kids for Kindness – Dog & Cat Care Drive” will conclude with the publication of The Des Moines Doggy Daily.

"It has been exciting as a teacher to be able to sit back and watch something that has started as a small idea of reading with an author because it related to kindness and see it snowball into an exciting, high interest project that seems to have only just begun in the lives of our students," says teacher Kendra Carlson about this experience.

When completed, the newspaper will be available in both print and digital formats. For updates on the project, the drive, and how to get a copy of The Des Moines Doggy Daily when it becomes available, visit: http://critterkin.com/projects/nosey-news/


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