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Pink Shirt Day: How BC SPCA humane education programs can help stop bullying

February 21, 2024

What does the BC SPCA have to do with anti-bullying? Through its humane education programs, which reach thousands of B.C. children each year, the animal welfare organization helps young people put themselves in the place of others, and think and feel from different perspectives. Focusing on empathy development with animals can be key in making the link to the consequences of bullying.

“Empathy is a skill. It can be taught, and strengthened with practice,” says Gillian Ickert Plett, manager of humane education community programs. “Through both our school and community programs, we focus on how our attitudes and behaviours impact all types of animals, as well as other people and the environment.”

BC SPCA community programs, including camps and the Kids Club, target youth between the ages of 5 to 13, which is a key development time for both learning empathy skills and demonstrating compassion for others. BC SPCA school programs cover various animal welfare topics with a focus on social-emotional learning. Ickert Plett notes, “We offer curriculum-linked presentations to classes from kindergarten to grade 12. We continue to develop our programming for teens, with a new high school presentation about animal-related careers, as well as social justice and the needs of farmed animals. At the community level, teen advocacy workshops are another area we plan to grow.”

Whether age five or 15, the development of empathy, kindness and pro-social skills is crucial at all age levels in tackling bullying. “Our actions have an impact on others,” says Ickert Plett. “That impact can be negative, but it can also be positive. We want youth to learn, early on, that they have the power to make a difference.”

The importance of not being a bystander in the face of injustices is imparted on youth at all levels of the BC SPCA’s humane education programming, and this can have a big impact on how students view bullying. Through learning about animal issues and developing ways to use their voices to take action, youth nurture and develop the empathy, confidence and self-esteem necessary to be ambassadors for kindness in their communities.

“Youth continuously inspire us with the ways they use their voices to speak up for others and be powerful advocates for a kinder world,” says Ickert Plett. One teen recently wrote a children’s book about climate change to sell by donation at their local BC SPCA branch. Another pair of friends founded an animal club at school so that younger students can learn about and help animals. One student group participated in a three-part school presentation, then helped regional education coordinator, Stephenie Campbell, deliver a load of pet food to their community food cupboard. Campbell recalls, “When we finished up one little girl said to me, ‘My cats are going to be so excited about the food and treats! Because we go to the food bank every Thursday!’”

“Stories like these encourage us as we continue with our work,” says Ickert Plett. “Helping young people develop greater empathy for animals, the environment and each other is at the root of what we do.”

Special Pink Shirt Day offer: Supporting humane education in Vernon

In celebration of Pink Shirt Day, coming up on Feb. 28, the BC SPCA is offering a special school presentation promotion in Vernon, where the BC SPCA community animal centre recently had to close. “We want to honour the kindness of students and educators in Vernon, and let them know that we will continue to be there to help bring animal-focused social-emotional learning into classrooms,” says regional humane educator Keigan Hollefriend.

To take advantage of this offer of a free BC SPCA classroom presentation*, teachers in the Vernon school district can first learn about the available presentations and then fill out the booking form.

Following the presentation, teachers will also receive post-presentation lessons for their classroom. Plus, every student will receive a free BC SPCA Kids Club membership, which includes a subscription to Bark! magazine.

Hollefriend says she’s excited about the promotion. “I can’t wait to share the message of kindness to all living things with even more students.”

*Subject to presenter availability; presentations must take place between (February 9 – March 15, 2024); promotion available to SD22; limited free presentations per school. 

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