Veganism is introduced as a way that some people choose to live in order to be compassionate to all animals.
As Andrea describes their approach, “We help students see that these animals are worthy of love. We want them to make the connection with these animals first and have those seeds that we are planting gradually blossom into more compassionate lifestyle choices. Once they start to ask questions about avoiding meat, we provide age-appropriate answers.”
Lauren Barbieri, CAS Education Manager, introducing Lena, Zeke, and Scout to schoolchildren.
Broadcasting from a rural farm sanctuary has a unique set of challenges. It was not uncommon for the wind to drown out the educators’ voices or have excess ambient outdoor noise picked up by the iPads. The CAS staff adopted the use of small microphones to assist with sound quality, and they added a portable Wi-Fi booster to the property to prevent the also not uncommon loss of signal.
The staff’s favorite virtual platform is Adobe Connect because of its versatility and capabilities for interaction with students, but they don’t currently have a license. They’ve had to rely on schools to provide a meeting link (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.). They hope to obtain a license in the future.
For single programs, the CAS educators gauge student knowledge throughout the session using a thumbs up/thumbs down method to indicate agreement or disagreement with statements about the animals, their health prior to rescue, and their lives at the sanctuary. This approach helps students better understand the lives of the animals in different situations.
For a program series, the CAS staff can assess student knowledge and opinions in more detail. For example, they elicit students’ ideas about farmed animals before the virtual tour, such as what they need to survive, their mental and emotional capacities, and the nature of their lives in agricultural enterprises compared to sanctuaries. The educators also help students examine how we habitually compare humans to animals. For example, “If someone calls you a ‘chicken,’ what do they mean, and how does that mesh with the actual nature of chickens?” Based on what they’ve learned, students are encouraged to consider the positive attributes of chickens and other animals.
Following a program series, the educators evaluate the impact on the students using a short online survey by asking them about their thoughts about farmed animals and how they can help animals in their own lives.
While nothing can replace a kiss from a cow, the sanctuary staff has a talent for portraying the animals’ personalities and charm on camera. For many students and teachers, this was their first experience learning about farmed animals from a companion animal view rather than as products of our food systems. Students were incredibly curious and engaged. Teachers reported that their students loved the experience.
“This was an incredible experience for our students. The educator did a wonderful job with presenting information in a well-organized manner.” – School teacher
“Thank you for providing our digital learners with a wonderful and meaningful virtual field trip to the Catskill Animal Sanctuary this afternoon. We got some really good feedback from our students, as they really enjoyed their time with you and all the lovely, sweet, rescued animals with you!” – School teacher
The CAS educators witnessed students beginning to ask themselves important questions about farmed animals and recognizing how individual, loving, and deserving of enriched lives they are.
Andrea Nassar, CAS Director of Humane Education Programs, introducing Darwin to school children.