You could say Julie Sugarman and Mary Ruppert’s friendship is almost prehistoric. The two met when Ruppert arrived 23 years ago with a stuffed dinosaur, Rexy, at her side. They became friends and developed their Rexy and the Four Steps to Friendship program to help kids communicate. They now have a Rexy book, and will produce a school musical starring the dynamic dino. Says Sugarman: “Rexy morphed into a typical kindergartner, with all of the enthusiasm and challenges that a 5-year-old has!”
School: Kindergarten teachers, The Rhoades School, Encinitas, California
Career Paths: Sugarman has taught kindergarten at Rhoades for 29 years; she is also director of the Music Academy there. Ruppert switched careers after her teacher husband urged her to try the classroom; she has taught next door to Sugarman for 23 years.
Teaching Philosophy: “We make our friendship a priority, and model that for students. We try not to take ourselves too seriously, so kids see it’s okay not to be perfect!”
Rexy and the Four Steps to Friendship: “When we introduce children to Rexy, they see he has a backpack, a thermos, and lots of emotions: He worries he is late or won’t know how to read; he interrupts others. Listening to Rexy overreact helps them relax. With our guiding questions, the kids help Rexy figure out his emotions and problem-solve. They learn to use their words, make eye contact and use a friendly voice, move away when necessary, and ask for help from a trusted adult. Over time, children begin to reflect on their own behavior.”
3 Friendship Tools
Emotional Muscle: Strong Parents, Strong Children, by Kerry Kelly Novick and Jack Novick, is a great book to suggest to parents.
Simon’s Cat: Videos on friendship, celebrating differences, and more.
Post Office Unit: Kids learn how to run a post office: wait their turn, communicate, spell a friend’s name.
Does Rexy’s legacy carry on?
“Our graduating eighth graders refer fondly to Rexy and the Four Steps to Friendship as a highlight of their time at Rhoades!”
Photo: Courtesy of Julie Sugarman and Mary Ruppert