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Humane Education in Action: Karen Woodburn Patterson

Written by Marsha Rakestraw | Published on November 21, 2012 | Filed under Humane Education in Action
The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Humane Education website at http://humaneeducation.org/blog/2012/11/21/humane-education-in-action-karen-woodburn-patterson/

Name: Karen Woodburn-Patterson

Home: Canton, Michigan

Graduated from Institute for Humane Education (IHE): M.Ed. in 2009

Current Job: Humane Education Director, Humane Society of Huron Valley

What led you to the path of humane education?

During my years of being an elementary teacher I was searching for a way to combine my love of teaching with my passion for animal welfare and environmental ethics. Once I stumbled upon IHE on a basic internet search, I knew I had found my calling! I was drawn to the fact that humane education could be easily implemented into any classroom and that it could be adapted to include people of all ages. Most of all, I enjoy that humane education not only gives people information, but also gives people the knowledge and resources to make more compassionate choices in their lives.

How has your humane education experience with IHE affected/influenced you?

My experience with IHE has changed my life in so many ways. It has made me more aware of the effect that my actions can have on humans, animals, and the environment and has opened my eyes to many issues that currently face our society. It has also helped me to become a better teacher, one in which I can take the most academic topic or lesson and make it meaningful and relevant to the lives of students. Most importantly it has guided me to become a more compassionate, responsible person.

Describe your current humane education work.

In my current humane education work, I direct and run the humane education programs at the Humane Society of Huron Valley. This includes programs that are offered onsite, such as summer camps and programs that are held offsite, such as classroom presentations. I have also done work in writing animal welfare curricula for local non-profits, presented at state level teachers conferences and have taught a humane education course for teachers at our local community college.

How has your work been making an impact?

We regularly receive letters from families or people with whom we’ve worked, telling us how much they enjoy what we’re doing and what an impact our programs have made. Here are just a couple excerpts from letters we’ve received:

“All three of my children registered to become a part of the Junior Volunteer Program for the Humane Society of Huron Valley. My kids love animals and we expected that they would get to cuddle, walk, play and love on shelter animals. What we did not expect was the level of instruction and education my kids would receive from the program. My children learned (and continue to learn as they have stayed on long since the program ended) responsibility, leadership (as they work with younger children who come to the shelter), commitment, compassion and recognizing an animal in need. I have seen in my children a sense of pride in their accomplishment of making a difference in the lives of these animals and in their community.” ~ Parent of three

“My two children recently attended the Humane Society of Huron Valley’s Winter Break PAWS camp. As a result of attending the camp my kids are now huge animal lovers and want to make sure that every animal there finds a home. They even donated some of their money to help further the cause. When we told our friends about the camp they now all want to send their children there!” ~ Parent of two

“My 4-year-old son and I have attended the Humane Society of Huron Valley’s Little Paws Story time for preschoolers several times. I can remember the very first session we went to when the instructor, Karen, taught all the children how to gently and properly pet a dog and even weeks later I would catch my son practicing this when he was sitting quietly and always remembering to use the proper technique when petting someone’s dog.  It made quite an impact on him. This [storytime] is something my child really looks forward to and that I feel good about taking him to because of the positive impact it has had on him.” ~ Parent of one

Share a success story or two.

One success story is that after presenting to our volunteers here at HSHV (on what humane education is) one of them, Jessie Hitt, started the Master’s program at IHE!

I think that our Camp PAWS program for ages 7-11 is always a lot of fun for everyone involved. We offer the camp during the summer as well as during the two week holiday break in December. Camp PAWS is a mixture of humane education lessons, time with shelter animals, crafts and game time, field trips, guest speakers, and reverence building activities. My favorite part of the camp is watching the children develop a bond with some of our shelter animals throughout the week. We keep track of who is adopted that week and there is always so much excitement when an animal they know has found their home!

Our Junior Volunteers Club (J.V. Club) is a program that is unique to this area. It was co-developed with our volunteer coordinator, Brittany Keene, and the support of our staff and volunteers. This program was designed for ages 12-17 and allows youth in this age group to become official Junior Volunteers at HSHV. They attend six hands-on training sessions that incorporate humane education lessons, volunteer training, work with mentor volunteers, and volunteering practice. Each J.V. Club participant is paired up with a mentor volunteer, and it is always wonderful to see the relationship and team building that takes place between the participants, the mentors and the staff. The positive qualities of the participants are always our main focus, and we love to see the confidence and compassion that our Junior Volunteers develop throughout the program. We are really excited to be one of the only shelters in the area that has a specific volunteer program for this age group.

One great thing about both of these programs is that they give me an opportunity to maintain ongoing teacher/student relationships with youth, which is something that I sometimes miss about working in a classroom.

Other than that, I feel that just getting our program up and running is a success story for us! Our humane ed programs have impacted the lives of many youth in our community. We now have a positive place for youth to spend their time and to learn more about animals. Furthermore, we are able to work with youth and families who might not have learned empathy and compassion and introduce them to positive ways to interact with other humans, animals and the environment. Of course, we have increased our adoptions, some of which is a result of the families who have been a part of our humane ed. programs. I am excited about the continued impact that our humane education programs will have as time goes on.

What are your thoughts about the power of humane education to positively transform the world?

I remember several years ago when I began my adventure in humane education, I was shocked to learn about so many issues that had been going on in our society for years. Although some were really hard to face, I forced myself to learn more so that I could teach others. It is amazing how much humane education has transformed my life, as well as the others around me. I have seen the effects of my learning trickle over to my family and friends, and I am amazed at how much one program has affected the people I love.

If humane education, even though only formally delivered to one person (myself), has impacted my life and the people I love so much, I can only imagine what it can do for the world.

What would you say to others interested in IHE’s graduate programs?

I knew that I needed to further my education to keep my teacher certification valid in Michigan, but didn’t want to just take “filler” classes simply to get the credits. When looking for educational programs to attend, I always longed for one that would not only educate me, but would make an impact on my life and help shape who I am. The program at IHE not only helped me to grow professionally, but it made significant positive changes in my life.  If you are looking for program that will educate you and help you to become a more compassionate, aware citizen, IHE’s grad program is for you!