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!”

The Basics

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!”

Cool Project

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

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