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For most teenagers, going back to school means returning to classes in writing and arithmetic. Thanks to The Humane Society of the United States, middle and high school students can now take free classes to learn more about their favorite furry friends too, through its online Humane Academy.
In 2009 the animal welfare organization established the Humane Academy, which was inspired by concerned letters and emails from students across the country. It was designed to educate preteens and adolescents about animal rights through an online class called “Using the Legislative Process to Speak Up for Animals.”
“In high school, learning about lobbying and legislation isn’t always the most exciting thing, so we try to make it fun,” says Stephanie Itle-Clark, M.S. Ed., CHES, who joined the Humane Society in 2007 and helped to establish the academy. “We give students real-life examples of how lobbying works, and encourage them to search for legislation that may have died, so they can try to reactivate it or bring it back in a different form.”
In just five years the Academy has grown by leaps and bounds to include an online career fair and a school project help center. When the website relaunches in early October, it will feature a redesign and curriculum update — along with four free classes for students.
One of these new offerings, “Make Your Voice Heard,” focuses on effective presentation tips, giving students the confidence to talk about animal rights issues.
“When kids are assigned persuasive speeches and/or presentations for school, they often choose animal welfare as a topic,” says Itle-Clark. “We offer step-by-step instructions and also hints for finding resources and facts to support arguments.”
Another new course will teach students about dissection alternatives, giving them tools for working with teachers to put these alternatives in place at their respective schools. But the most popular class has consistently been “Animal Cruelty 101.”
Although the risqué topic has the potential to stir up uneasy feelings, as Itle-Clark explains, “students start to think about violence towards animals, and also interpersonal abuse. It’s interesting for them to learn about how behavior can progress, and it helps them understand the issues.”
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