The clinking of a collar immediately grabbed students’ attention, apparent as heads turned toward the open door. A dog then bolted in, tail wagging.
For a new course offered at Cal Poly, this is the regular classroom setting. What started as a pilot class last winter has turned into a 2-unit class liberal studies majors can take over the course of two quarters. The Subject Matter Apprenticeship (LS 380) the course now offers a section for the Woods Humane Education Ambassador Program.
Class takes place at Woods Humane Society, where Cal Poly students learn about dogs and the proper ways to interact with them. After eight weeks of training, the Cal Poly students go into local elementary school classrooms in pairs of two to teach students lessons on how to handle dogs properly. These lessons inform kids about Woods and teach them how to be kind to dogs, how to approach dogs and the importance of population control.
“As a liberal studies major I’ve had a lot of practice working in a classroom, but this is the first time that I’m going to be in front of a class and actually teaching it,” Roshanzaer said.
The course is guided by liberal studies lecturer Anne Marie Bergen. Woods Humane Education Coordinator Jamie Relth reached out to Bergen last fall about the potential opportunity. In the winter that followed, six students piloted the class; now, 12 students took the course in winter and will continue with it into spring.
“One of the things that I’m always looking for are opportunities for people to get very inspired to be teachers,” Bergen said. “This has been a great spark to see students who are really excited about the animals but also really see themselves teaching too.”
Bergen said she believes the class is a great way to plant seeds in young people about how to properly treat animals as well as humans.
Relth had been going into elementary school classrooms during the last couple of years by herself but wanted to expand the program. She said she thought back to when she was in college and how she missed having pets around. She decided this would be a great opportunity for these students who will already be student teaching to get both an opportunity to teach a class as well as have animal time.
“It seemed perfect to have future teachers working with the humane society to teach classrooms,” Bergen said.
Relth said she pulls ideas for the classroom lessons based on the Association of Professional Humane Educators (APHE) curriculum, as well as from what the staff at Woods said they felt the community needs to learn most. Originally, Relth taught at whatever schools were interested, but she said that now they are primarily targeting schools in North San Luis Obispo County. Relth said the specificity resulted from information from animal services and other local organizations. She said they noticed more dog overpopulation, as well as more likelihood of dogs being kept outside or roaming around, in this part of the county.
Each team of two students learns a portion of a lesson to present to the elementary school classrooms. While one of the students presents to the classroom, the other will manage the dog. This winter portion of the class is 2 units, and the spring portion will be 1-2 units, depending on how many elementary classrooms they teach. Bergen said she believes some of the students who are not graduating this spring intend to continue outreach with Woods next year as well.
“Most of us in the class love dogs and when a dog comes in, everyone’s putting their hand out trying to make the dog come to them” Roshanzaer said. “Being in college I don’t have a dog, and it’s been nice going in there every week because it brightens my day.”
Relth said her goal is just to have a really positive experience for the kids and the animals, where they are learning how to respect and appreciate the animal’s feelings.
“There’s all kinds of things that they’re kind of putting into perspective depending on how they have been raised,” she said. “They may think about pets as just animals and ‘we don’t have to worry about their feelings.’ I think it is really shifting their perspective by the end of it on pets — without them really realizing it.”
This course is currently only offered to liberal studies majors because of the limited space in the class. Bergen said this class can be used as a model for the future for other learning opportunities.
As for Roshanzaer’s experience this quarter with the class, she said, “I don’t think of it as a class — I think of it as an elective, something fun to do.”
Cassandra McIntyre, Kayla Berenson and Jaelin Wilson contributed to this story.