Bridges of Respect: 40,000 Strong

Como High
Humane Educator Shannon Kimball with students at Como Park Senior High School in St. Paul

Can you believe that as of 2015 Bridges of Respect has reached more than 40,000 students? That’s right! Since it was launched in 1999, CAA’s humane education program has reached 40,000 young minds, about 30 at a time.

Our presenters have been sharing the truth about what’s happening to animals in the food industry and elsewhere. When students feel comfortable, they contribute to the conversation and open up about their personal experiences. It requires a nonjudgmental atmosphere and patience. That’s how we get invited back semester after semester. Based on thousands of student surveys, we must be doing something right. When the students appreciate our efforts, the teachers do too. Presentations have to be tailored to fit the requirements of different classroom settings, from public to private schools, in magnets and charters, and from the inner city to the ‘burbs.

Bridges has been forging relationships with educators across the Twin Cities and surrounding areas. We’ve shaped curriculum, written assignments, and provided teaching materials for educators. We’ve had our lessons incorporated into classroom tests and have helped fulfill the learning targets of a variety of lesson plans. Here are a few examples:

  • Registered vegan dietitians visit health classes.
  • Students try vegan pancakes in their Family & Consumer Science classes.
  • College ethics students compare and contrast the leading perspectives on animal protection, and we demonstrate how we apply those perspectives to our daily lives.
  • We display steel jaw leg-hold traps, an elephant hook used by circus trainers, battery cages used in the egg industry, and then talk about alternatives to these harmful practices.

When I first started presenting for the program, I was nervous. Educating students is an important responsibility, and I knew I had to do my best. Share information and lifestyle examples, but don’t indoctrinate; make an impact, but don’t traumatize; leave them with a sense of urgency, but don’t come off as pushy or militant. It’s simple really: “This is what I do to help animals, and here’s why. And here’s how you can do it too if you want.”

One day, I wasn’t sure how the presentation went. I didn’t get a strong reaction from the students, except for a few bored faces (it is a high school after all). In between bells while everyone was heading out of class, a student approached me. She thanked me for coming in and told me that I was her hero. It’s a moment I reflect on when I need a little inspiration. Moreover, it was one of the moments when I realized how important it is to teach in underserved communities, and with regards to teaching about animal protection, that can feel like almost everywhere sometimes.

When I was in high school in the (gulp) ‘90s, I never had a lesson on the potential health and environmental benefits of veganism. It never came up in any way, in any class, in any year. We never had a guest speaker to provide the perspective that animals matter and to tell us what we can do about it. I’ve spent the last 15 years helping Bridges grow for this reason. Not only does humane education have the ability to transform our world into a more humane place, it allows students to develop into more critical thinking individuals.

I’m happy we have reached this milestone and look forward to seeing the program expand. There is still so much work to do in the schools, and there are still so many animals who need a voice.

A 14 year old inspired by our presentation 17 years ago is 31 now, perhaps with children. If what students from all walks of life have told us is any indication, our lessons about compassion will be passed on.

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