A Pioneering Partnership between HSU and SPCA
In October 2012, Humane Society University’s School of Continuing Education (SCE) began a partnership with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Serving Erie County in Buffalo, NY to evaluate its humane education programming. Its two main programs are Encouraging Kind Kids (EKK) for grades 1-6 and Teaching Love and Compassion (TLC) for grades 6-8. Buffalo Public Schools (BPS) chooses students for the TLC program who are invited to the SPCA shelter every day after school for four and a half weeks to train shelter dogs, learn about kindness and respect for people, animals, and the environment. The partnering school, the Martin Luther King Multicultural Institute, is ranked number 211 out of 211 middle schools, according to Business First’s Guide to Western New York Schools 2012-2013. The BPS District is also ranked 97 out of 97 school districts in academic performance with a poverty level of 37.1% and 77.3% of students receiving free lunches. TLC students have experienced their parents being in prison or being absent from their lives, siblings who have dropped out of school, and living environments where they’ve witnessed dog fighting, drug dealing, and “street justice” as the norm. Children in this school have many obstacles to overcome.
Through its partnership with EKK, SPCA humane educators use books with humane themes to discuss how they are related to expressing kindness towards people, animals, and the environment. SCE’s role includes: creating survey instruments for the students to determine any changes in attitudes or intended behaviors and guiding the administration of the surveys and collection of data. In December, SCE’s Manager of Curriculum and Educator Outreach, Heidi Parker O’Brien, paid a visit to Buffalo, NY to observe TLC in action at the SPCA and EKK at the Martin Luther King Multicultural Institute. On the day of her visit, TLC students were presenting to the younger EKK students about their experiences at the shelter. “What struck me was the confidence and pride that the TLC students exuded when talking about their experience,” said O’Brien. “They shared how working with animals helped them overcome their fears about them. It was clear from the younger students’ questioning of the older students that they were afraid of animals too. Programs like EKK and TLC help students see animals not as dangerous and aggressive but as those who need our care and help.”
The collaboration between SCE and SPCA has proven to be a success. “We’re discovering new ways that the surveys can be designed and administered, so that we may better understand the transformation taking place in students as they experience the SPCA’s programs,” said O’Brien. “It’s a joy to see great programs at work and help track their value. Our hope is that this data will help these programs enjoy a long future, and inspire other agencies to start similar initiatives.”