Student Well-Being

4-H Anti-Bullying Curriculum Uses Abused Dog to Teach Compassion, Perseverance

By Marva Hinton — November 18, 2016 2 min read
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This post originally appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.

The 4-H organization’s curriculum that uses the story of a three-legged dog to teach students about bullying is now available to children throughout the country. [This post has been updated to reflect the fact that this curriculum is currently available and can be purchased online. 12/12]

Marshall, the Labrador retriever behind the curriculum, was rescued from an animal hoarder and lost his leg after suffering abuse from other dogs and neglect from his owner. But things turned around for him six years ago when he was adopted by a woman from St. Louis.

“Anyone can connect with Marshall,” said Cyndi Willenbrock, the woman who gave Marshall a home in 2010.

Since then, she’s had him trained to become a therapy dog, written a children’s book about him, and produced a movie about his story. After the book came out in 2012, Willenbrock began to receive requests to bring Marshall into schools. So far, they’ve visited schools in about 30 states and 70 different cities.

“He carries so many messages from acceptance and tolerance to the importance of being kind to each other and animals and perseverance and forgiveness,” said Willenbrock. “Obviously, Marshall went through a lot, and he still shows up for life.”

These messages make up the bulk of the 50-minute lessons covered in the Marshall Mentor Program, which is designed for students in 4th through 8th grades.

“One of 4-H’s key program areas is healthy living, through which youth learn how to lead lives that balance physical, mental, and emotional health,” said Alaina Masler, a 4-H manager for learning products, in an email. “With a focus on bullying prevention, the Marshall Mentor Program aligns very well with the emotional well-being component of healthy living.

How It Works

The curriculum is taught by high school students who have been trained by school counselors or 4-H youth specialists. They deliver it to the younger students over six weeks or six sessions while the adult trainer looks on to make sure all goes well or to provide assistance if, say, one of the younger children asks a question the high school student doesn’t know how to answer.

During the first week, the students watch a short video of Marshall and Willenbrock. Then, they read Marshall’s book. The following five weeks or sessions focus on one of the key themes from the book. Students are also exposed to quotes from famous Americans such as Eleanor Roosevelt that deal with these issues.

Willenbrock developed the curriculum with help from educators and anti-bullying experts. It can be delivered during school hours or as part of an after-school program.

Although the Marshall Mentor Program will be made available nationwide next month, students in 4-H in Missouri have been using it since 2013. So far, about 400 of them have gone through it.

“It’s a wonderful program with a message that helps young people and adults really think about empathy and care and concern for others, and that’s certainly a message we want to share with our 4-H youth and families,” said Alison Copeland, a state 4-H youth development specialist in Missouri.

The curriculum is available for purchase through the 4-H Mall.

Photo: Marshall poses for a picture following surgery to remove his badly broken leg. (Courtesy Cyndi Willenbrock)

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.

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