10 Tips for Helping Create a Humane School Experience

Backpacks, bells and bus schedules are taking center stage as millions of kids, parents and teachers jump into a new school year. If you’re a parent, it’s a great time to integrate humane choices into your child’s school experience and to inspire others. If you’re a teacher, the fresh start of a new year provides an excellent opportunity to implement new habits, lessons and explorations into your classroom and school.

Here are 10 tips for helping create a more humane school experience:

  1. Invest in eco-friendly, healthy, humane products. There are numerous online stores for purchasing recycled or eco-friendly paper, pens and pencils, backpacks, crayons, etc. If you don’t know where to start looking for such items, there are a slew of blogs and news outlets that have recently covered green products and supplies. Try a web search for “eco-friendly school supplies” or “green back to school,” being sure to also think about the impact of those school supply choices on people and animals. (Many “big box” stores are also starting to carry more eco-friendly supplies.) Back-to-school clothes don’t have to mean supporting sweatshops; thrift stores, clothing swaps and sweatshop-free products all offer alternative choices. You can also think beyond the classroom to the entire school and talk to teachers, administrators, the custodians and cafeteria workers about choosing humane and sustainable products. From paper towels to cleaners to napkins to staplers, there are plenty of opportunities to make positive choices.
  2. Develop relationships. No one wants to feel like they’re being told what to do or to feel defensive or judged. Get to know your child’s teachers/parents and other members of the school/family so that you can learn to know them as people, develop compassionate communication skills with them and to serve as a role model for healthy, humane practices. Find others concerned about the same issues and start working together and helping support each other.
  3. Introduce eco-friendly and humane practices into the classroom. If you’re the teacher, you have the power to adopt such practices yourself. If you’re a parent, talk with your child’s teacher and develop a positive relationship so that you can feel confident in offering positive suggestions. The opportunities are limitless, from starting recycling programs to sharing supplies to reducing waste to minimizing paper use to promoting healthier and more sustainable snacks to reducing various “prints” (carbon footprints, foodprints, waterprints, etc.).
  4. Integrate humane education activities into the curriculum. The Institute for Humane Education has several ideas to get you started and to help spark your own creativity. You can also use/recommend books like The Power and Promise of Humane Education by Zoe Weil and Black Ants and Buddhists by Mary Cowhey (for elementary kids). If you’re a parent, recommend humane education activities to the teacher and offer to lead a lesson on a humane topic that supports the curriculum and is interesting to the kids.
  5. Suggest relevant resources. There are a plethora of books, websites, magazines and other resources available that focus on humane education and social change issues. Find ones that are pertinent to what your teacher/other teachers are doing and recommend them. If you leave any “agenda” behind, teachers and parents often appreciate learning about new and useful resources.
  6. Look for special opportunities to introduce humane concepts and issues; observances are one opportunity. Columbus Day coming up? Share resources about the experiences of indigenous people related to the “discovery of America.” (Rethinking Schools has a great book with teaching ideas, stories, poems and other resources called Rethinking Columbus.)  Halloween? Host a costume swap and offer fair trade chocolate treats (along with a discussion of the connection between child slavery and chocolate). Bake sale? Bring tasty organic, local, fair trade, vegan treats. Class party? Provide/suggest sustainable supplies, activities and resources. Is the school planning a donkey basketball game or to hatch chicks? Bring awareness about these issues and suggest alternatives. There are plenty of opportunities for facilitating humane connections.
  7. Help implement healthy, sustainable, compassionate lunches in school.  Schools all over the country are working on revamping school food programs. Check out resources such as waste-free lunches, healthy school lunch programs, organic gardening programs, farm to school programs and others for guidance and inspiration. If you’re sending your child to school with lunch, be sure to send healthy food and waste-free containers and diningware.
  8. Offer your expertise. If you’re a teacher, work with other teachers, parents and administrators to bring awareness to humane issues and suggest ways to implement positive actions. If you’re a parent, offer to volunteer in your child’s classroom, to give presentations (or arrange presentations) about social justice topics, or manifest your expertise in some other way.
  9. Suggest humane fundraising ideas. Instead of magazines, wrapping paper, junk food, or slave chocolate, choose creative projects that provide a good service or product while also benefiting people, animals and the planet.
  10. Help develop school-wide projects that benefit the community. How about organizing walk to school days? Cultivating school gardens and natural areas? Community tree planting? Initiating service learning based around humane issues? Conducting energy or water use audits? We frequently read in the news about the terrific projects schools are implementing to help create a better world.

Whether you’re a parent, teacher, or concerned citizen, there are nearly unlimited ways to help your community’s schools make choices that do the most good and least harm for all people, animals and the planet. Start with small steps, and soon you’ll be working up to powerful changes.

~ Marsha

(Note: This post was previously published in IHE’s September 2008 Humane Edge E-News.)