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 as 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)

Students Use Community Mapping to Tackle Local Issues

 
For the past few months our 4th grade students at LEARN Excel Charter Schools engaged in projects to improve their community using a tool called “community mapping”. Through these projects our students were able to identify ways to improve their community and then take action to make it better.
 
So what is community mapping? The idea is simple. Students create a map of their community and on the map they identify areas that cause challenges in their community and areas that are beneficial to their community.
 
To help our students find concrete challenges and benefits, we took them on a walk around their school and photographed what they saw. Our students identified their school, trees, and fire hydrants as things that benefit their community, and litter, graffiti, and broken street signs as challenges that need to be addressed.
 
Working in small groups, the students used the photos to create their maps and then presented their maps to their classmates. After the presentations, the students discussed projects that would solve problems in their community or make good places in the community even better.

community mapping education

Since they identified their school as being a positive place within their community, they decided to have a school supplies collection drive and perform plays they created to educate the younger students. They also decided to have a litter cleanup day to reduce the pollution in their area. All three projects were a huge success!
 
Community mapping is a simple tool that connects students to the outside world and makes learning exciting and relevant. It can also make issues in the community more concrete or tangible, which is especially important for younger students.
 
If you would like to learn more about how HEART structures our community mapping projects, contact Mickey at Mickey@teachhumane.org.

HEART Teaches Kids in Milan, Italy About Human Rights

 
milano, italy

For the third year in a row, HEART brought its We Are All Worthy unit to high school students at the Colegio San Carlo in Milan, Italy. We didn’t have to get on a plane. Instead, we logged in to Webex, and spoke to the students virtually, partnering with the incredible local teachers and utilizing a blossoming technology to bring humane education to kids roughly four thousand miles away.
 
Each morning over three days HEART staff Kim Korona and Meena Alagappan introduced topics on human rights such as basic needs, water scarcity and child labor. Students were asked to think about the kinds of things that all people require to live and thrive, such as food, water, shelter, healthcare and education and then to consider just how many people lack access to those most basic needs. The conversations really prompted the kids to feel gratitude for their own lives since they didn’t have to worry about things like where their next meal was coming from, and to want to help those who may be suffering because they don’t have a roof over their head or clean water to drink.
 
One student said, “I understood that there are so many people that are not as lucky as we are. And I learned some solutions and initiatives that we can do to help them.” Another commented about how these lessons would change his personal actions. He said, “I will start helping poor people, even if I know that it’s just a little part to make the world better and I won’t waste water anymore and I’ll be happy for what I have.”  In fact, nearly every student volunteered that they would try to reduce the amount of water they use each day as a way to help the larger global issue.
 
Educator Kim Korona said about the program, “Students were shocked to learn about some of the human rights violations that have occurred around the world and they agreed that there are certain rights that should be universal.”
 
In HEART’s programs, students are asked to look at an issue from all sides and use critical thinking to examine their own actions and how they can potentially make more positive decisions to benefit themselves, others, and the greater world. While talking about water scarcity, the students learned that around 780 million people lack access to clean water, and as a result, more than 3.4 million people die each year from water related illnesses. The students thought about all the ways humans use water each day. We use it for tasks like cooking, drinking, showering, cleaning and agriculture. Then, they thought about some of the other ways humans use water that are luxuries rather than necessities like water parks, pools, watering the lawn and lengthy showers. Later, they measured their own water footprint to find out how much they use in a day as compared to what is considered the minimum needed by the United Nations.
 
When discussing child labor, the students looked at what inspires them to buy a certain piece of clothing or stay loyal to a brand. Fit? Style? Price? While taking a more in depth look at child labor they were asked to consider where their clothes were made, who made them, and in what type of working conditions. They read a double-voice poem comparing the life of a teen in a sweatshop making sneakers to the life of a teen wearing the very same sneakers. Then, the students wrote their own poems.
 
At the end of the three days, students knew a lot more about human rights than when they started, and all of them were eager to have HEART come back for more since there is still so much to learn on the topic. Well, we’re just as eager and we’re happy to say that we’ll be back in June. We are so thankful to the Colegio San Carlo for partnering with HEART to offer our programs in Italy. The need for compassion towards all beings and the planet is a universal subject and the students we met were definitely up to the task of creating a more humane world for all life.
 
Photo Credit: Paolo Margari

Humane Education Teaches Gratitude

 
thankfulness

Humane education teaches a great many things. Leadership, compassion, critical thinking, empathy, selflessness, and how to put ideas into action for the benefit of others. Another big thing that humane education teaches? Gratitude.
 
Gratitude has gotten a lot of press over the last few years. And for good reason. Studies show that those who regularly practice gratitude are rewarded for their efforts. According to the Emmons Lab at UC Davis in California in a summary of their findings, people who practice gratitude are more likely to make progress toward personal goals; report higher levels of positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy; are more likely to help someone with a problem or offer emotional support to others; experience a greater sense of feeling connected to others; maintain a more optimistic rating of their life; sleep better; and have more positive attitudes towards their school and families. That’s quite a list of benefits!
 
So, how does humane education inspire students to practice gratitude? When we go into a classroom, we talk about serious issues impacting people, animals and the planet. One of our first lessons in our Humane Living Program is always about child labor. Students look at the lives of children around the world and find that many have to work long hours for little or no pay in dangerous conditions and, because they are working, don’t receive an education. The students realize just how lucky they are compared to so many other people around the world, even kids their own age. Suddenly, the homework they didn’t want to do the night before becomes a privilege, not a burden.
 
After learning about child labor and water scarcity among other human rights issues, HEART students in a program we did in Italy were asked the following: “What did you learn from the HEART humane education lessons? What do you think will stay with you from these lessons?”
 
Their answers were fantastic. So many of them, in the same breath, discussed their compassion for others along with their recognition of how fortunate they are to have what they have. Some answers included:
 
“I learned that there are so many people that are not as lucky as we are and that they don’t have access to water or other basic needs and their rights are violated.”
 
“I will start helping poor people, even if I know that it’s just a little part to make the world better and I won’t waste water anymore and I’ll be happy for what I have.”
 
The students weren’t asked anything about gratitude. It’s a topic they brought up on their own because it really does go hand-in-hand with humane education. Seeing how other people struggle prompts us to reflect on our own lives and, in many cases, how fortunate we are. That’s not to say that we don’t all experience difficulties. However, gratitude has been proven to make some of life’s biggest challenges easier to bear simply by concentrating on what we do have rather than what we don’t. It’s a lesson we’re happy our students are learning and one that will aid them in the classroom and throughout their lives.
 
Photo Credit: Flickr/MTSOfan

The Case for Volunteering This Summer

 
boy gardening

Right now kids across the country are figuring out how they want to spend their summer vacations. Some will take on jobs or go to camp, some might travel with their families, and others will continue their studies. Another great option to consider is volunteering.
 
Organizations all over the world are looking for young people to get involved and help by donating their time and talent to a cause. It could be working at a children’s hospital, a senior center, an animal shelter or sanctuary, or with an environmental group. Volunteering is a great way for students to turn their compassion into action, take on new responsibilities, and to learn how to work in a professional environment. And unlike many jobs, a student can tailor volunteer work to fit within his or her schedule.
 
Check out services like Volunteer Match to find opportunities in your area. Or simply Google search to find organizations looking for volunteers in your city. There is no shortage of resources available to help you or your child find the right fit. And the benefits one gets from volunteering are just as numerous. That’s why service learning is a large part of the HEART program. Learning about an issue we care about is just the first step. Our students know that taking action to help make the world a better place is the only way to create a real and lasting impact.
 
Photo credit: Flickr/Sébastien Barré’