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Numerous studies highlight the emotional health benefits children gain when connecting with companion animals, as it helps them build self-esteem and combat loneliness. The Humane Rescue Alliance’s classroom education program emphasized that connection while encouraging kindness, compassion and social action.
A pandemic, forcing near-total isolation, was no time to abandon thoughtful youth programming. However, could screens replace popular classroom visits that included animal guests, lively group discussions and thought-provoking activities?
The initial answer was, “let’s try.” Speakers were scheduled, slides were created and videos were chosen for virtual summer camps. More than 250 children attended online summer camps at HRA and our St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center. Animals who otherwise would not have travelled to classrooms for live presentations made their on-screen debuts. Guests included chinchillas, chickens, parrots, tortoises, marine life, reptiles, farm animals, cats and dogs. Excited children fervently typed in questions and comments. Several adoptions resulted from the summer camps, too.
Parents shared their reactions to the transition:
“My son has been very interested in the wellbeing of abused animals since attending the camp,” said one parent. “He donated to Ladybell's emergency fund and has been following her progress closely.”
Another parent wrote: “I am out of work, like so many others, and was THRILLED that you offered a camp for free. This summer, I wouldn't have been able to afford any price you set it at ... You are to be commended for offering this virtual camp.”
Meanwhile, a parent from outside of the District commented: “Thank you so much for an amazing experience! We REALLY hope that you will offer more online opportunities so that we can attend (we live in Texas).”
Virtual summer youth programming was just the beginning. Establishing environments where students feel confident speaking for those who can’t, expressing their feelings toward animals and sharing their past animal experiences remains paramount to creating a kinder, more just and engaged society. Just as schools transitioned to online learning, we adapted our education programs at HRA and St. Hubert’s, too. With a greater focus on after school and out-of-school time programs and creative service learning opportunities, HRA and St. Hubert’s are providing options for youth to engage in animal welfare programming from their homes.
This summer, HRA launched an after-school program created especially for middle and high schoolers. Students demonstrating Passion, Engagement, Advocacy, and Kindness (SPEAK). This program was designed to familiarize students with HRA’s programs and services and challenge teenagers to create their own outreach projects to help the animals in their communities. The workshops focused on humane law enforcement, legislation, positive reinforcement training, and adoption and foster programs. A post-SPEAK project may include a legislative writing campaign, an online anti-cruelty video or a pet food drive. The possibilities to get involved are endless.
SPEAK sessions will continue throughout the school year.
For students, parents and teachers who are looking to learn more about animals, shelters and how to support both, HRA has introduced its Animal Academy, filled with learning opportunities, book recommendations, lists of organizations, volunteer projects and a library of animal videos.
“I took a deep dive into your Animal Academy and LOVE it. I haven't seen such attention to education, especially the younger kids,” wrote an employee at an Arizona animal shelter.
Education programs that were once local are now available to virtually everyone!
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