Meet Gideon Simmons, One of HEART’s Caring Kids

child with dog

Ever meet a child who cares so much, your hope for the future is fully restored? Here at HEART, we get to feel that sensation each day. We wish you could meet all the kids who go through our programs and see just how big their hearts are. For now, we’d like to introduce you to Gideon.
7-year-old Gideon Simmons participated Caring Kids: Animal Ambassadors, a new program for 5 – 8 year olds we created in partnership with Animal Haven. As an Animal Ambassador, Gideon took part in five different programs, each three sessions long, learning about topics including companion animal protection, the importance of adopting small furry animals, birds, and reptiles, building reverence for farm animals, protecting wildlife, and humane training techniques, along with promoting dog and cat adoptions. During each program Gideon and all the other children learned about various issues related to the main topic and then completed service projects to help animals in real life. At the end of the program youth received badges to recognize what they learned, the service they provided, and their dedication to helping animals in need.
We decided to ask Gideon if he would mind sharing with all of you why he cares so much about animals, and how he feels about Caring Kids.
Gideon and his mom, Georgia, came all the way from Staten Island to Manhattan to attend, not exactly a short distance to travel for an after-school program. Gideon explained, “I read this book called ‘Harry the Homeless Puppy’ and people were volunteering at this animal shelter. So after I read the whole book, my mom [and I] went online and we tried to find local animal shelters that I could volunteer at. All the animal shelters didn’t really have something for kids my age. So, we found Animal Haven. It was the best.”
caring kids animal havenIn the Living Wild section of our program youth had the opportunity to learn more about how trash and litter can harm wildlife. They created art pieces to educate others on the harmful consequences that trash can have on our wildlife friends and discussed ways to protect wildlife by reducing, reusing, and recycling. Gideon, a long-time animal lover, with a special interest in wildlife, told us he wants to assist animals when they are injured when he grows up. He said he will “help animals and nurse them back to health if damaged, like seagulls if they get caught up in trash. Or…wounded fish or dolphins…and whales.”
The youth who attended Caring Kids: Animal Ambassadors learned a lot about animals in need and ways to help. Gideon told us that of everything he learned, one of the things that will stay with him the most is the plight of captive animals. He said, “animals who are captured and brought in to places like circuses… like elephants, they don’t like it.” In his opinion, “[t]hey’re tortured. They’re probably being held down against their will.”
In addition to learning about the issues, a key component of the program was the service projects. Gideon, along with all the other youth who attended, participated in numerous projects to help animals. While Gideon said that he really liked all the projects, he said his “favorite, favorite, favorite” one was when he tabled for Animal Haven (using display boards the kids made themselves, among other materials) and collected donations for the shelter.
Gideon is wise beyond his years; he said that it is important to help animals because “we need them.” He explained that there are so many ways that animals have helped people and therefore people should help them.
Outside of the program Gideon and his family have their own animal companions who they love and care for. They also provide for the needs of a stray cat who is in their neighborhood. Gideon says everyone can start helping animals today by, “being nicer to the Earth, [not] littering and stop[ping] all this toxic stuff that people let in to the air.”
To other kids who are thinking about attending the program this coming fall, Gideon says, “…don’t even think about it, just go right ahead! It’s the best place you could ever want to go…It’s nice, the people there are friendly…I love everything there.”
If you are interested in participating in the Caring Kids: Animal Ambassadors upcoming Fall 2014 programming please register here.
Sign up soon as space is limited.

Photo credit for image of Gideon with certificates: Brandon Perdomo

For Teachers: Tools to Start the Year with a Humane Classroom

teacher in classroomIt’s that time of year. Kids are finishing up their summer homework and teachers are preparing their classrooms and going over their curricula.
As you prepare for the 2014/2015 school year, we would like to offer up a few resources that will help you make your classroom a humane classroom. And we would love to hear any additional suggestions on how you model humane behavior, create a safe learning space, and bring human rights, animal protection and environmental ethics into your daily lessons.
Teachers: Tips to Make Your Classroom Eco-Friendly

5 Quick Tips for Creating a Compassionate Classroom

Four Ways to Encourage Kindness in Students

Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education

Twenty Tips for Creating a Safe Learning Environment
Of course, you can always check out our resources section for actual lesson plans and activities. (And stay tuned for HEART’s new Animal Resource Guide. We’ll be releasing it soon!)
Photo Credit: US Department of Education / Flickr

Kids Across the Country Are Having a Humane Summer

Kids visit catskill animal sanctuary

Most people know that during the school year HEART is busy working with students and teachers to bring humane education into classrooms. What you may not know is that we’re just as busy during the summer!
With our Have a HEART camp in the Bronx, now in its fourth year, and our summer programs in Chicago, Indianapolis and Portland, Oregon, HEART is transforming summer into a time for kindness as well as fun. Pictures can tell the story better than we ever could, so see below for some highlights. The kids have been learning about human rights, animal protection and environmental ethics, and, as always, doing their best to help make the world a better place.

blind horse catskill animal sanctuary

Bronx kids meet farm animals like Buddy the blind horse at Catskill Animal Sanctuary

kids educate others about climate change

Indianapolis campers learn about and present on environmental issues

campers children's museum

Bronx kids visit the Children’s Museum at the New York Historical Society

kids animal shelter

Bronx kids learn about companion animal homelessness on a field trip to Animal Haven

diy bird feeders

Chicago kids made eco-bird feeders to help local wildlife

kids make eco cleaners

Chicago campers make eco-cleaners

campers clean up park

Bronx kids helped clean up Pelham Bay Park by picking up litter

If you’d like to support HEART’s important work, click here and help us bring humane education to more students and teachers.

Students at PS 107 Learn About Child Labor

students child labor

Do you know where your clothes were made? How about who harvested the food you ate this morning? Were the workers treated fairly? Paid a good wage? Do you know if they were adults or children? Sadly, if you ask the vast majority of people those very same questions, the answer to each and every one of them will most likely be, “I don’t know.”
In HEART’s lesson on child labor that “I don’t know” is just the jumping off point for students to start thinking about where their belongings come from and what their relationship is with the people who made them.
HEART instructor, Jeannie Russell, went to each of the 5th grade classrooms on week two of her ten-week program and talked to the kids about child labor and sweatshops. The kids were divided into pairs and given a true story to read about a child who worked in another country.

child labor education

The students were asked whether or not the work was good for the child, meaning it was safe and allowed them the time to go to school, or bad, meaning the conditions were unsafe and/or they worked too much to go to school. Through those discussions, they learned what many children around the world face each day. Some are forced to work long hours in fields, others in dangerous factories and some on the street. Some even join the military.
Jeannie asked the students to partner up and, by looking at his or her partner’s tags, find out where their clothing was made. Each pair discovered that their shirts and shoes were stitched in places like China, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia (to name a few). The students realized that they knew very little about the people who made their clothes. Then, they learned that asking questions about where their clothing and other belongings come from is a great step forward to becoming a humane consumer. By doing a bit of research on a company before we hand over our cash, we can decide whether or not it is the kind of company we would feel good about supporting. As with all of HEART’s programs, we ask students to look deeper and, with their newly acquired knowledge, to make the best decisions they can to help people around the world. That could mean boycotting a company that uses child labor or sweatshops, or buying more second hand clothing. They can also start petitions or write letters to let the company know that they aren’t happy with the way they are treating their employees.

kids learning geography

The students were fantastic as they listened and thought critically and compassionately about how children around the world live and work. That newfound knowledge is something they can easily apply to their everyday lives to help make the world a more humane place for children just like them.

kids learning about migrant farmers

5th Graders Give Animals Their Day in Court

kids learn about animals

On May 1st students at P.S. 36 became champions for chimpanzees, elephants and dolphins. In front of a guest judge (our own Chris Parrucci), the 5th graders presented their case on why nonhuman animals deserve to have rights.
Inspired by The NonHuman Rights Project, an organization that has made international headlines recently for its work to obtain legal rights for chimpanzees, the students used their role playing skills to take on the persona of one of the three species to convince the visiting judge that animals deserve a better quality of life than many are currently given.
For weeks the students researched their chosen species and looked at emotions, behaviors, habitats, familial bonds, how they are treated and what people are doing to try to help them. They looked into issues like poaching, animals in captivity, and habitat destruction and came up with arguments on why animals deserve better. They also designed masks so that when they made their presentation, they could show that they were a dolphin, chimpanzee or elephant.
Some arguments included:

  • The strong emotional lives of animals. Students pointed out that they feel the same emotions that humans feel.
  • They deserve to have lives without pain brought on by humans.
  • Wild animals do not want to live in captivity.
  • They need a place to live, and should therefore have their habitats protected.

One child said, “A lot of people think animals are really different. There are more things that people share with animals than people imagine. It’s silly that we get rights and they don’t.”
Judge for the day, and humane educator, Chris Parrucci, used his law background to carefully listen to the cases being made. He said about the students’ work, “I was impressed with how much research they did, how thoughtful they were and when I asked them questions they were very prepared to answer those questions. It was obvious they were doing a lot of critical thinking as well as showing empathy which is an amazing combination.” He continued, “It was very heartening to see just how the kids were really on board. There was no question that these animals deserved rights. The question was when they were going to get rights.”
HEART educator Jeannie Russell worked with the students for weeks to prepare for their day in imaginary court. The exercise enabled kids to really think about the ways in which we treat animals, and how we could do things differently. One student, who had taken on the character of a dolphin, said, “If dolphins did to humans what humans do to dolphins, then humans would be very upset.” When considering the ethics of any given situation, allowing yourself to walk in someone else’s shoes, even if it’s only pretend, can make all the difference in the world. These students did a fantastic job. We hope the real judges who hear the cases made by the real NonHuman Rights Project will be as compassionate as Chris.
Photo Credits: John K, Marv Gillibrand, Tambako the Jaguar (Flickr)