Can Teaching City Kids About Farm Animals Change the World?
Farm Sanctuary’s New Humane Education Program Uses Virtual Reality Technology to Bring Farm Animals into New York and Philadelphia Metro Area Classrooms
NEW YORK CITY (June 6, 2017) – It’s not every day that students sitting in inner city classrooms get to reach out and “touch” a farm animal, but thanks to a new humane education program being piloted by Farm Sanctuary, America’s leading farm animal protection organization, city kids are not only getting a rare opportunity to come face-to-face with cows, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens and other farm animals, but they’re also learning to think critically about the complex issues of contemporary agriculture — many for the first time in their lives. The unique and timely program, entitled “Meet the Animals: A Virtual Tour of Farm Sanctuary,” uses Virtual Reality (VR) headsets to introduce middle and high school students in the New York and Philadelphia metro areas to farm animals— the largest group of abused animals on Earth— and foster solution-oriented, critical analysis of our food system.
“Most city kids have never had the opportunity to meet a farm animal, and it’s hard to have empathy for someone you’ve never met,” said Farm Sanctuary Humane Educator Ben Araya, who draws on his five years of experience as the lead tour guide at the nonprofit organization’s upstate New York sanctuary to bring the sanctuary experience into classrooms. “When you combine kids’ natural sense of compassion for animals with knowledge of the intelligent, social, and emotional nature of farm animals, and how they are treated in our food system, it’s a powerful force for positive change.”
Araya takes students on a virtual tour of Farm Sanctuary’s upstate New York sanctuary right from their classroom seats through VR technology, photos, video, and storytelling, and introduces them to the animals who call the sanctuary home. As part of telling the animals’ histories, he shares background on the conditions these animals came from and the realities of our modern food system in an age-appropriate way that even includes a group exercise that gets students out of their seats and actively imagining what life is like for the animals. He also offers information about how plant-based food choices and reducing consumption of animal products is a great step to take towards helping animals.
In addition to the core “Meet the Animals” presentation, the program will offer three additional presentations: “The Inner Lives of Farm Animals: Cognition, Emotion, and Sociality;” “Food and the Environment: Climate Change, Deforestation, and Local Communities;” and “What’s on Your Plate? Animals and Food in America.” To extend the program’s reach to even more classrooms and students, Farm Sanctuary is developing curriculum resources that will be available free of charge to teachers worldwide.
“I think it opened the eyes of my city kids,” said Amanda Xavier, a 6th grade teacher at Ditmas Junior High School of a recent presentation in her classroom. “Many only have a vague idea of a ‘nice’ farm from childhood books. I think it increased awareness about factory farms and how bad conditions really are, and increased awareness about the animals as well. Most kids have no idea where their food comes from. This may have been the first time most of them learned about how their food is treated before it gets to their plates.”
Studies have shown that humane education has benefits for academic performance as well as student health and development.
- Humane education can enable at-risk students to find workable solutions to health and social problems.
- Teachers who infuse concepts of humane education into their classroom practices and culture have reported fewer conduct problems and aggressive behavior.
- Student and teacher high interest in animals in curriculum can lead to great engagement which promotes better and deeper learning. Authentic learning built around animal welfare education and animal welfare topics that impact the real world encourages brain growth and increased competencies in areas such as kinesthetic, spatial, artistic, and interpersonal in a way that traditional didactic and educator centered learning does not.
“Raising awareness among youth about the negative impacts of industrial animal agriculture is critical to curbing some of the biggest challenges the world faces,” said Farm Sanctuary President and Co-Founder Gene Baur. “The leading contributor to problems like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, environmental degradation, world hunger, and global climate change is animal agriculture. To not be discussing these issues in the classroom would be doing future generations a terrible disservice.”
Farm Sanctuary has been actively recruiting middle and high school teachers in the NYC and Philadelphia metro areas since April to participate in the program pilot this spring and will have given its first 60 presentations in 20 schools, reaching a total of 1,200 students, by the end of next week. Based on the results of the program pilot, Farm Sanctuary is planning a broad program launch when school resumes this fall. Note to Teachers: Fall presentations can be scheduled for middle and high school classrooms by writing to Farm Sanctuary at email@example.com.
Founded in 1986, Farm Sanctuary works to change how our society views and treats farm animals through rescue, education and advocacy. The organization provides lifelong care for animals rescued from abuse at three sanctuary locations in New York and California; promotes compassionate vegan living; and advocates legal and policy reforms. To learn more about Farm Sanctuary, visit farmsanctuary.org.
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