Kristina Hulvershorn and "Be the Change" crew
Kristina (in blue) at the Be the Change mini-museum for the Peace Learning Center.

IHE M.Ed. graduate Kristina Hulvershorn started her career as a teacher. Now she works in Indianapolis, Indiana, as the Youth Program Director for Peace Learning Center and as the Indianapolis Program Manager for HEART. Kristina says, “I am a mom of two humans, one dog, and one cat.”

We asked Kristina to share about her work for a better world

IHE: What led you to the path of humane education?

KH: I was involved in a lot of animal and environmental activism and began to question its  impact. I was teaching at the time, and I began to wonder if there was a way to align what I was good at with what I was passionate about. I was hungry for richer, more meaningful interactions.  I saw a humane education presentation at an animal rights conference in California and knew I had found what I was looking for.

IHE: Share how you’re currently manifesting humane education.

KH: I created an installation (a mini-museum) called “Be the Change,” which has 30 different interactive stations that cover a variety of topics, such as consumerism, companion animal overpopulation, the impact of food choices on our environment, empathy, and the hidden consequences of our everyday actions.

People can come and immerse themselves in these topics, which are all oriented toward empowerment: people walk away with a clearer understanding of how they can help, rather than just being weighed down with new information (which can be harmful).

A lot of the emphasis is on making statistics come alive, so we have exhibits that help kids and adults understand how significant some of the facts that we throw around really are. For example, I had a group of kids help make a display showing what one pound of CO2 would look like if it filled balloons. It would take about 25 balloons-worth of space, so the kids made 18 papier mache balloons. Considering that a gallon of gas creates 20 pounds of CO2, we can begin to see the extent of the problem (and the extent to which small changes can have big impact).

We have had more than 1,000 people through in the first year, and we hope to continue to expand.

I have also been working with a lot of kids and teachers in myriad ways and finding meaningful ways to infuse this critical humane education learning into various educational environments.

Kristina talking about an exhibit with a young changemaker

IHE: Share a success story.

KH: I partner with a group called Earth Charter Indiana for a week long Climate Camp every summer. Making the connection that every choice has impact, as we know, is harder than it sounds. So, our goal from the beginning was to really encourage that critical thinking and alignment of philosophy with action.

We have been able to pull off our camp with entirely plant-based meals, tons of carpooling and cycling, kids doing their own dishes (rather than using disposable items), using reusable water bottles and cooking utensils, etc.

Seeing it become part of their normal activity so quickly has been heartening; even more heartening has been hearing them articulate why it makes so much sense to align what we do with what we believe. It reminds me how much easier it is to align our actions with our ethics than to have to unlearn every time we wish to behave inconsistently, especially with children.

One of our mantras for this work has become “Listen to the wisdom of the youth,” because speaking out and being heard are so critically important for emerging changemakers and solutionaries.

Kristina and young changemakers working for clean air progress

IHE: In your work you may only engage with students a few times. What strategies have you developed to ensure that what you’re teaching them carries beyond those brief encounters?

KH: There is a delicate balance. As a humane educator, I want to avoid dogmatic or prescriptive interactions, but I also realize that I may be the only role model some of my students have met who feels comfortable speaking up for certain groups. So, always, my focus is on helping students think critically and setting up opportunities for all students to make their own realizations and conclusions.

That way, it is less about what they think and more how they are able to think for a long time to come. Even if they walk away only understanding that it is okay to question things, that’s an important take away.

I also take great pride being a safe person for children who are particularly sensitive and compassionate. Children with this perspective need affirmation that being kind, compassionate, and concerned are not weaknesses but important gifts. These are the kids our world needs!

For kids who already have humane inclinations, I try to boost their willingness to listen to their conscience and to engage with the topics that speak to them. Those kids can quickly become role models and changemakers when given support. Nurturing these kids can create a ripple effect in schools and communities.

I was one of those kids, and like many youth I work with now, I really needed encouragement more than knowledge. For me it was about trusting the part of myself that wanted to question, speak up, and create change. Further, by helping to inspire leaders, we are ushering inside-out solutions, rather than imposing our own.

IHE: What are some of the challenges and joys of raising a solutionary child today?

KH: The joys far outweigh the challenges thus far for me. I have a 5-year-old and a 10-month-old, and in many ways it is far easier to raise a solutionary than not. Food is an obvious topic, and I choose to raise my children vegan. My 5-year-old is really proud of the fact that she can eat, be healthy, and enjoy food without hurting animals. It’s as simple as that for her.

Being consistent is the easier of the two paths. It would be far more difficult to try to force her to unlearn love and compassion for animals and the natural world. On the other hand, she is so used to my attempts to foster empathy for others that now I hear myself in her voice. When we disagree she often asks things like, “How would you feel if you weren’t ready to go to bed but someone else told you that you needed to….” In those times I sometimes think it would be easier if I weren’t trying to raise a critical thinker who is so comfortable questioning authority!

The vast majority of the time, I am really impressed with how native it is for her to want to help when there is a clear problem in front of her. Picking up litter is just what you do. Singing to your little sister when she is crying is her automatic response … and, yes, reminding your parents to use kind words when they are frustrated is all in a day’s work as a 5-year-old solutionary!

IHE: What are your future plans for your humane education/changemaking work?

KH: We have some really exciting new projects on the horizon with HEART. I am finding interesting intersections in my work with social/emotional learning/restorative justice and humane education, and I always am writing children’s books in my head and heart — so I have plans to make some of that work tangible for those outside of my own community!

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

KH: Participating in IHE is a good balance of challenging and inspiring. I pull upon what I learned daily both in my professional and personal life. It is also an oasis of folks not afraid of critical thinking and questioning dominant paradigms, but who are also able to do this work joyfully and purposefully. I have yet to find a community like IHE anywhere else.  For me, it also provided a confidence in pushing forward new ideas that I might not have otherwise had.