Bridges of Respect in 2016

As we wrap up this school year and begin preparing for another, let’s take a quick look at what Bridges of Respect, CAA’s humane education program, has accomplished in 2016. It’s notable that all of this progress was made by dedicated volunteers.

Students Reached

More than 1,700 students were introduced to a variety of animal protection issues that they may not have been aware of otherwise. This is a remarkable fifty percent increase over last year! Most of our presentations revolved around the foods we eat and the way animals are affected, but we also presented on these topics:

  • How animals are used in the entertainment business
  • How animals are used in the science industry
  • The correlation between violence toward animals and violence toward other human beings
  • The great apes and the threats they face
  • Environmental issues

One teacher at Century College thanked us, shook the hand of the presenter, and simply stated, “You say it better than I can.”

Improved Curriculum

Our curriculum has been redesigned to allow for more student participation and to be more academically rigorous. We’ve developed a variety of video splices, assignments, and handouts defining key terms to further engage students in the subject matter. Some teachers are now showing their students full-length documentaries like Cowspiracy before we come to give our presentation.


To increase the benefits we offer to the classroom, we’ve partnered with others to develop initiatives to engage students in community projects, share resources, and support each other’s work. Some of the organizations that we’ve partnered with this past year include Factory Farming Awareness Coalition, Vegan Outreach, Mercy for Animals, Education Minnesota, and St. Cloud University.

Volunteer Nathan Huerkamp preparing vegan food samples

Vegan Food in the Classroom

We usually provide vegan food samples such as Tofurky sandwiches and almond milk, but we stepped out of our comfort zone this year and took a chance on sharing some different vegan foods with classrooms that have full kitchens. For an early morning class, we made pancakes and described how to make them vegan using bananas instead of eggs. For a class just last month, we prepared a mini vegan Thanksgiving meal just before the holiday. CAA volunteer Nathan Huerkamp donned his chef uniform and whipped up some Field Roast Celebration Roast with a dollop of mashed potatoes and gravy for more than a hundred students that day. Leftovers were quickly claimed by the LGBTQ after school club.

Inspiring Students

Teaching students about farmed animals can be a tricky topic. Students at high school age are developing both intellectually and emotionally, and though we want to leave them with a sense of urgency to get involved, we also don’t want them to be overwhelmed with disturbing information about how farmed animals are treated. Students are developing their own sense of identity and understanding of how the world works. We want to provide accurate information that will allow them to make their own choices about the foods they eat and to foster compassion for all animals. We don’t tell students what to choose; we teach them that their choices matter and then give them the tools to take the next steps.

Students after a Bridges of Respect presentation

Bridges of Respect is one of CAA’s key programs, and we would love your support to keep it going. Please make a contribution today and help us reach our year-end goal of $10,000 by December 31. All of these funds are matched 2-for-1, thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor. We would very much appreciate your support for CAA’s humane education efforts in the Twin Cities.

Bridges of Respect: 40,000 Strong

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.

Bridges of Respect: Balancing Perspectives

Our humane education program, Bridges of Respect, has reached over 800 students so far this year. The program conveys values of respect and compassion for animals. Class time usually allows us about an hour with the students. We showcase a variety of plant-based foods. We also share the stories of our personal transitions to vegetarianism, the pitfalls and the benefits of a plant-based diet, the availability of plant-based foods, and resources for change.

The presentations we offer cover a variety of animal protection topics. Students participate in the presentation, taste vegan food samples, and sometimes take notes for a test or other assignment. We’ve recently received our first presentation request for the fall semester, and it’s from an Animal Management class at Blaine High School.

We first started working with this class last spring. The course explores small animal care and career opportunities. It also has a rights and welfare section that talks extensively about animals that are farmed, vivisected, and hunted. More specifically, it highlights how those practices benefit humanity. When we sat down with the teacher, he told us that he thought that the textbook and lesson plans are very biased in favor of those industries. He was stuck with it though and wanted us to provide another viewpoint. Looking through the materials, we could see what he meant. The textbook would approach each topic with a poorly constructed depiction of the animal rights position in a paragraph or two, and then spend the remaining eight paragraphs defending the use of animals. It also didn’t take long for the animal protectionist to be painted with a broad brush stroke — credited with sabotage, property damage, and even terrorism.

Photos in the textbook were provided courtesy of the Farmer’s Exchange, the American Farm Bureau Federation, Agriscience, and the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station and represented animal agriculture in the best possible light. The photo depicting veal production, for example, didn’t show a calf immobilized and chained by the neck in a wooden stall, as is the case for most calves in the industry. Instead, they were pictured in outdoor pens with sunshine and a mountainscape. The caption reads: ”Veal calves are kept in individual stalls so they can receive individual attention. Disease is kept to a minimum and farmers are able to feed and care for the calves more efficiently. The economic welfare of the farmers depends on the proper care and treatment of their animals.”

Another photo shows hens in battery cages. These cages are one of the most restrictive of all housing methods used by factory farms. As many as a dozen birds are crammed in a wire cage that measures less than the width of one bird’s wing span, but there was no mention of this in the textbook. Here is their description of battery cages: “Laying hens are kept in cages under controlled environments that increase the efficiency of the laying operation. Each hen receives adequate feed and water. Eggs, a valuable part of the diet for many Americans, are available at affordable prices because of the efficiency of these operations.” Though it is true that these intensive farming operations produce cheap eggs, the other statements are suspect, especially in light of many undercover investigations that reveal otherwise.

The textbook also tells impressionable students that: “Farming in the United States is not controlled by large corporations. Of the 2.2 million farms in the United States, 97 percent are family-owned and operated; only 7,000 are non-family-controlled operations.” Their source for these numbers was dated 1988 and fails to mention that the three percent of farms that aren’t small family farms are in fact factory farms and contain the vast majority of animals raised for food.

The teacher wasn’t really sure where to go from there, what to say or which videos to use. He wanted to show a more balanced perspective, and that’s where we came in.

The teacher allotted time for us to provide three presentations for his students. We shifted the focus to a more moderate view of animal protection with examples of peaceful activism, community building, and personal growth. We also presented a detailed overview of the ways in which animals need our help most. No less than a dozen students, about half of them, hung around after class to speak with the presenters about how to get involved, eat more plant-based foods, find cruelty-free products, and more. We played a variety of films for students, including the Mercy for Animals’ eye-opening expose “Farm to Fridge,” clips from Peaceable Kingdom, a documentary about the Farm Sanctuary, and a 20/20 Special titled “Almost Human” that focuses on a chimp named Booee who knows sign language but was sold to a lab. We also gave the teacher a Discovery documentary that discusses the emotions of animals. The film, titled Why Dogs Smile and Chimpanzees Cry, resonates powerfully with students. We frequently use clips from it in middle and high schools.

The teacher even has us rewriting some of the handouts to reflect animal protection in a fair light. These handouts are already in use, counteracting the decades-long presence of industry-produced resources designed to protect profits and stifle progress for animals. In this way, they serve the same purpose as the dangerous ag-gag laws aimed at censoring documentation of routine practices in factory farms and slaughterhouses.

The teacher now refers to Bridges of Respect as an important part of his curriculum. We’ve appreciated the opportunity to meet with these students at Blaine High School for more than three hours and are looking forward to meeting the new students in the fall. To make informed choices, students need all of the information. From what I’ve seen, students appreciate honesty and will often look for ways to help when they recognize that there is a need. They will make decisions that reflect their values and ultimately make a difference for animals.

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