Something happens when you look into the eyes of an animal and witness their sense of wonder, mischief, and emotions. It’s in that moment that we can truly see and feel the power of sanctuary, the potential for a kinder, more sustainable future. Farm Sanctuary has spent the better part of the past three decades delivering such experiences while shedding a critical light on the ills of factory farming and our broken food system. Not everyone can visit our sanctuary locations, but thanks to Farm Sanctuary’s Humane Education program, we’re changing hearts and minds in the classroom, too. In just 18 months, the program has already reached more than 13,000 students in classrooms in California and the New York Tri-State region.

Photo by Derek Goodwin.

“I learned about the terrible living conditions of most farm animals and how much the world could change if we became plant-based,” said one Milpitas, CA, high schooler after a Farm Sanctuary Humane Education presentation.

Farm Sanctuary Humane Educators were among the first to address the lives of farm animals and our food system with students at the middle and high school level. We have also effectively recruited activists for the future and are opening up a world of possibility for change.

Farm Sanctuary’s unique program applies an innovative combination of hands-on, interactive experiences and multimedia animal education, and the in-school program continues to set future generations on a compassionate path. Students are transported — with the aid of virtual-reality headsets — to the rolling hills of Farm Sanctuary’s New York Shelter. There, they can “meet” a few of the rescued animals, and connect more deeply with those individuals as individuals instead of products within the food system. Ultimately, they begin to understand there’s another side to these stories: There are still billions of animals who will never find sanctuary, and instead suffer abuse and extreme confinement.

Photo by Derek Goodwin.

This is made even clearer when students stand toe-to-toe in a taped-off area created at the front of the room. The experience simulates today’s battery cage, which is endured by factory-farmed hens during egg production.

After each lesson, students are encouraged to share their thoughts by writing out something new they have learned on a colorful sticky note to hang on the wall. In many cases, students have said programs have inspired them to rethink their diet and lifestyle or understand more about the negative impacts of factory farming.

Photo by Derek Goodwin.

Not surprisingly, given student enthusiasm, the program has garnered positive reviews from teachers, as well. “I would say that this presentation did an excellent job in raising student awareness of how animals are treated,” noted one teacher. “Many of my students are deeply considering changing their eating habits.”

Relating personal feelings about animals to larger social issues is a unique aspect of the presentation. In one class, reports Farm Sanctuary West Coast Humane Educator Maddie Krasno, “Students were reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma [by Michael Pollan]. The teacher included video footage of many aspects of our food system, so students are given an in-depth look. Having a teacher that is focusing on these issues and including them in the curriculum made them all exceptionally excited about the presentation and enthusiastic about expressing their feedback and thoughts.”

Experiences like these have fueled a natural demand for resources and community after our Humane Education classroom visits, leading to the launch of Farm Sanctuary’s Youth Leadership Council. In this project, a group of middle and high school students from around the country has turned their compassion for animals into advocacy projects in their schools, including founding animal protection clubs and convincing cafeterias to adopt Meatless Mondays.

Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals.

“The Youth Leadership Council (YLC) has motivated me to do more consistent advocacy work, as well as search for more service opportunities specifically related to helping farm animals,” explained Avalon Jade, a Florida 12th-grader who founded her own nonprofit, Conserve It Forward.

Together, with help from future leaders like Avalon Jade, her peers, welcoming schools, and donor support, we are planting the seeds for change while growing further opportunities to make a difference for farm animals.

For more information on Farm Sanctuary’s Humane Education program as well as resources for introducing the power of sanctuary to youth in your life, visit farmsanctuary.org/humane-education.

Top photo by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals.