October 9, 2009
Jeffery Fessler, 2008 National KIND Teacher
Fourth-grade teacher uses humane education to help animals, community; says his students learn more effectively
The long line of smiling 4th grade faces turn serious as they learn that there are not enough homes for all of the puppies and kittens bouncing in front of them. The students are visiting the Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League with their teacher, Jeffery Fessler, as part of a grant-funded class service-learning project. The students then go back to the classroom for more research and to develop public service announcements promoting adoption and spay/neuter of pets.
This is just one of several projects for animals that Fessler, a 12-year teaching veteran at U.B. Kinsey Elementary School of the Arts in Palm Beach, Florida, has undertaken with his students. He observes, "Students are keenly interested in these issues, so I always know a humane education project will be a success with them."
Fessler, whose passion for animals started the day he read The Day No Pigs Would Die, draws on the teaching power of stories to allow each student to see through the eyes of a character and learn empathy. After reading Shiloh, the classic novel about an abused beagle, the class launched into learning about the lives of chained dogs and how they could help.
After reading Shiloh, the classic novel about an abused beagle, the class launched into learning about the lives of chained dogs and how they could help.
Students created a school-wide advertising campaign to persuade faculty and students to keep dogs indoors. Not only did the students prepare posters, they created podcasts, brochures, and commercials for the live morning news program broadcast at the school. The ad campaign was a success: After reading a poster, one mother went home and brought the family dog inside!
"While it is only a small step in the work that needs to be done, we helped the life of at least one dog," Fessler says.
His class also inspired the school community to collect a dozen boxes of supplies and $150 for the Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League.
Kindness is not only for companion animals in Fessler’s classroom community. A reading of The Trumpet of the Swan gave students and faculty the chance to learn about one endangered wild animal. Afterward, the school "adopted" a pair of wild swans, with the collected money going to care for and feed these animals.
Rallying the power of peer mentoring and service-learning grant money, Fessler’s class shared the message about humane treatment of companion animals through oral and written language, song, and artwork. Each fourth grader was matched with a Kindergarten student. Throughout the project the partners read humane-themed books and wrote a script about proper pet care for the culminating celebratory puppet show.
Fessler created a puppet theater named "The K-9 Follies" that the students used to perform their puppet show for the entire school body. Additionally, Kindergarten students took a pre- and post-test to gauge their pet care knowledge—every student increased his or her score on the post test!
Making the Grade
Fessler believes firmly that his students’ experience with humane education not only helps animals and the community—it helps them academically as well.
"What’s interesting is that our district is so focused on the big state test that it’s almost considered sacrilegious to do anything other than test prep. But my students were able to prepare for the state test by working on these projects, and their scores on the state reading test have always been higher than the district and state average," says Fessler. "Humane education projects allow my students to be engaged in the learning process. They are excited to come to school!"