Stick Library coming to Foley Dog Park courtesy of FES Pet Pals

By Jessica Vaughn
Posted 4/14/21

FOLEY - Dog owners visiting the Foley Dog Park will find a new addition soon - a stick library. The project was brought forward by students in Foley Elementary School teacher Christine Speir’s …

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Stick Library coming to Foley Dog Park courtesy of FES Pet Pals

Mayor Ralph Hellmich, Assistant Principal Angie Beard, and ESL teacher Joanna Worch.
Mayor Ralph Hellmich, Assistant Principal Angie Beard, and ESL teacher Joanna Worch.
Posted

FOLEY - Dog owners visiting the Foley Dog Park will find a new addition soon - a stick library. The project was brought forward by students in Foley Elementary School teacher Christine Speir’s class. Many of the students are involved in Foley Elementary School’s Pet Pals program, designed to teach kids writing, communication skills, geography, and much more.

“We believe the sticks would provide dogs and their owners hours of play,” the students wrote in a letter to the city mayor and council. “The library would be a place where dogs could return the sticks we provide. Dogs can learn how to share, exercise and not chew up their owner’s shoes ... We can work together as a team to make Foley, Alabama even a better place to live- especially for our dog friends.”

The Foley High School woodworking students designed the stick library with treated wood, and Foley Elementary STEAM students will design a sign with a 3D printer to identify the library. The stick library will be stocked and maintained by Foley Elementary School students.

“The kids have already started filling our rooms with sticks,” said Foley Elementary School Teacher of the Year Joanna Worch, ESL teacher who started the Pet Pals Program within the school. “We’ll put the sticks into the library at the Dog Park, and then when someone brings their dog to the park they can “check out” a stick, and then they can check it back in afterwards … It’s something that we want to continue to maintain, so we can have students report if there’s a shortage of sticks, determine which sticks work best, which ones don’t fall apart, which ones are too big, do we want ones with sap on them or not. There’s a lot of problem solving going on in this as well.”

Worch believes in keeping students engaged in the community, and internationally, as the Foley Elementary School Pet Pals program has spread across the world.

“The Pet Pals program is where students write to pets all over the world, and the owners write the kids back from the pet’s perspective,” Worch said. “It supports character education, it supports writing … And it teaches students how to be patient because they have to wait until the pet writes them back.”

All letters are read by a teacher before being sent to ensure the students remain safe and don’t reveal personal information, and all incoming letters are reviewed before being delivered to the students. Worch says the students write to the pets about everything from their days, their lessons, bullying, and even relationship advice. In return, letters received from the pets include info on outings with their owners, vet visits and results, new discoveries, and advice for the students.

Students learn about geography through maps and pictures showing where each of the Pet Pals is writing them from. Animals are also studied, with far more than just cats and dogs responding to the students. Pet Pals include cats, dogs, horses, turtles, cows, and more. Like people, the Pet Pal animals are unique and diverse.

“We were able to focus a lot more this year on getting special needs pets,” Worch said. “We have blind animals, deaf animals, animals in wheelchairs … It teaches diversity. It teaches acceptance and inclusion of all.”

The Pet Pals program began as a way to get students engaged in writing. Worch wanted her students to enjoy writing, not simply do it because they were forced to. It began with a few teachers, family, and friends writing to the students from their pets’ perspectives. Then, the project began to grow. And grow. And grow. Now, Foley Elementary School students have Pet Pals all across America, and the world. There are Pet Pals writing from Jerusalem, Brazil and Canada, to name a few.

“The students most favorite thing is receiving a letter. The extra is getting a picture of the animal,” Worch said. “There are sixth graders who tear up when they receive a letter from a pet.”

The program has spread even further, with Pet Pal parents donating money to purchase snacks and supplies for Foley Elementary School students. As Worch said, “People from across the world will donate a dollar so a kid can have a smile.” A picture of the pet is attached to the dollar before it’s given to the student, which Worch says the students love.

For more information, follow Foley Elementary School on Facebook, @FoleyElementarySchool, or visit www.bcbe.org/foleyelem.