IHE M.Ed. graduate Kate Skwire has just begun her career in humane education at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary in High Falls, New York, where she leads tours for school groups and the public and works on creating lessons for Woodstock’s school outreach humane education program.
We asked Kate to share about her work for a better world.
IHE: What led you to the path of humane education?
KS: Shortly after becoming vegan in 2010, I began doing outreach and activism. I started with leafleting around NYC and tabling with various groups. Then I got involved with more direct action stuff like protesting (at various events centered around the exploitation of animals) and attending vigils at live markets. After that I became an organizer for a direct action group. We did some really creative and confrontational activism.
It was somewhere in the middle of this progression that I realized this was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a voice for animals, but not on the side. I wanted it to be my career. I met Rae Sikora, one of the co-founders of IHE, at a circus protest when I lived in the Southwest for a brief period. I found out about IHE and decided to do the master’s program.
IHE: Share how you’re currently manifesting humane education.
KS: Giving tours at the sanctuary, whether it is for school groups or the public, is some of the most powerful work I’ve done. Many people come expecting to simply to meet and interact with the animals that live here and have no idea how much education they’re going to receive.
I get to tell people about what these animals are actually like. I get to tell them the whole truth of what really goes on in factory and “humane” farms. I get to share such poignant and personal stories about the individuals here, and after that, I get to see the animals just light the people up.
IHE: Share a success story and/or a story that shows the impact of your humane ed work.0
KS: On one tour with a group of Girl Scouts, before we began the tour, one young girl emphatically told me she could never be vegetarian. Before we were even all the way through the tour, I saw her turn to her mom (who was a chaperone) and say that they were going to have to try vegetarian for a while.
I also received a letter from a high school student who visited with her class who said that what she learned that day had impacted not only her diet, but her family’s as well, because she shared with them what she’d learned. That made my day.
IHE: You’ve been creating a humane ed curriculum from scratch. What have been some of the challenges and benefits of doing so?
KS: That has been the hardest part of this work for me so far. There really isn’t existing curriculum out there that is specific to a sanctuary.
At Woodstock, we felt it was very important to focus on the animals, as opposed to the environment or the human health aspect of animal agriculture. I suppose the benefit and the challenge are one and the same.
Of course it’s an exciting and highly creative process and also hugely challenging to make a whole curriculum up, especially considering I haven’t taught inside a classroom before. The lessons I’ve created focus on critical thinking and compassion for farmed animals. I’m excited to test them out!
IHE: What’s it like getting to hang out with the rescued animals every day?
KS: It is such a privilege to be near them every day. I get out of the office as often as I can to just be with them and connect. I am also learning so much about their individual personalities, their characters, and the depth of each one of them. They were my first friends when I came here.
IHE: What’s your favorite part of your job?
KS: The best parts of the job are spending time with the animals and teaching everyone who comes for tours all about them. In the fall, I expect to be doing humane education in schools and I hope I will love that aspect too.
IHE: What are your future plans for your humane education work?
KS: In the future, I’d love to travel the country and present at schools. A very effective speaker at my college campus inspired me to become vegan, and I think I’d be very good at that.
I would also love to teach a college course on animal rights that covers how animal agriculture affects the animals, the environment, and human health, the psychology of eating animals (a la Melanie Joy), how the animal rights movement intersects with other social justice movements, etc.
For now, I want to dig in to the work to be done here and get my feet wet in the classroom in the fall.
IHE: What would you say to others interested in IHE’s graduate programs?
KS: I would say to check it out! I learned a lot through the program and met some great people. It’s so rewarding to be able to do work that you feel is meaningful and that makes a real difference.