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June 8, 2010

A Head Start in Humane Thinking

Preschool teacher receives 2010 National KIND Teacher Award for incorporating humane education in the classroom

2010 National KIND Teacher Melanie Brewer

Melanie Brewer

"I have always had a respect for and love of animals," says Melanie Brewer, a Head Start teacher and center manager in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. So when some of her young students indicated that they didn't feel the same way, it was a call to action for Brewer.

"I had heard some comments that the children made about hitting their dog because ‘he was bad,’ and my staff and I decided that a little animal kindness awareness was needed," says Brewer, the 2010 recipient of the National KIND Teacher Award.

Brewer has always strived to set a good example for her students by modeling humane behavior. To help further the message, she developed a month-long program of humane lessons—targeting students and their parents—that cover a range of issues, including responsible pet care, dog bite prevention, pet overpopulation, and respect for wildlife. Brewer's humane education program fit seamlessly into the Head Start curriculum, which already teaches kindness and good character.

Class act

Proper pet care and safety around dogs played a significant role in the program. With a combination of books, videos, and discussion, Brewer taught her students about dog bite prevention, humane treatment of animals, and the importance of spaying and neutering. Parents also received information and handouts on those topics. A mock vet clinic, complete with toy stethoscopes, pet carriers, and stuffed animals, was set up in the classroom, and a veterinary technician came in to talk about the role of vet hospitals and how to take good care of pets.

A variety of other guest speakers addressed the children and their parents. A local educator who works with a search-and-rescue dog team came in with his dog to tell the children how they work together to save lives, and a police officer visited with his K-9 partner. Dogs trained in agility demonstrated the importance of exercising and playing with your dog. Other visitors included a dog groomer and a visually-impaired woman with her Seeing Eye dog. Brewer also brought in one of her own foster dogs, and students brought pictures of their own pets from home to create a classroom scrapbook.

Brewer has seen the program make a difference in her students. "We have noticed that the children are more knowledgeable about appropriate behavior around animals," she says, adding that parents have also said they enjoy the program and hope it continues.

Thinking outside the classroom 

Besides bringing speakers into the classroom, Brewer and her colleagues have also worked on bringing their students outdoors. Thanks to a Missouri Conservation Grant—and the hard work of several parents, volunteers, and staff members—an outdoor classroom was created at the Head Start center. It provides an ideal setting for students to learn about the environment and gain an appreciation for nature and wildlife. 

"The children are very involved with lessons and activities on birds and butterflies and their habitat," says Brewer. "They are kinder to bugs and more interested in being outside and observing what is around them. My hope is to encourage kindness to all living creatures."  

Fostering kindness

Brewer also puts into practice what she teaches her students. As a volunteer with Excelsior Springs Friends of Animals, she and her family have fostered more than 40 dogs who have now found permanent homes.

Marilyn Hughes of Excelsior Springs Friends of Animals nominated Brewer for the award for sharing her humane ethic with her students. "Melanie is a longtime foster volunteer with our organization and is an outstanding educator. She took the time to put together this model program all on her own. It was successful in that the children in her care learned valuable lessons—and the parents learned too."

More about our National KIND Teacher Award»

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