Chester’s Barn Educational Program
Horse Helpers began its intentional educational outreach in 2012, but efforts were increased in 2014 when Horse Helpers rescued a young miniature horse with stringhalt (a neurological disease that limits the range of movement in a horse’s back legs). Chester, named after Chester on “Gunsmoke” because of his limp, captured the heart of one volunteer in particular who liked to write, Tom Pace. The result was the collaborative publication of a children’s book titled, Chester’s Barn. Out of Chester’s arrival and Tom’s vision emerged a program that allows children to learn traditional classroom lessons in nontraditional ways. The story also emphasizes life lessons like empathy, tolerance, responsibility, family and loss. Read to children of all ages, the Chester’s Barn Educational Program primarily focuses on 4th graders. This provides a 3-day long, best practices program on equine and humane community building.
Chester’s Barn Education Program
Fourth grade classes participating in this program have the opportunity to complete a pre-visit lesson the day prior to Chester’s arrival. This lesson, written by Dr. Morgan Blanton, a professor at Appalachian State University’s Reich College of Education, focuses on social studies and Language Arts and meets the NC 4th grade teaching assessment requirements. The following day students meet Horse Helpers volunteers and get to hear the story Chester’s Barn, sing a song about Chester and have a Q&A session before the go outside and get to meet Chester and his friends. The day is ended with each child receiving their own Chester’s Barn book. The children love the multiple learning activities. Pace took his background in education and thoughtfully crafted a program that we know reaches children and is easily modified to fit the range of children/adults we work with at the moment. On the third day, teachers have a reading lesson that uses the story the children heard the day before. All the materials for the lessons are provided to the teachers for free, in advance.
Additionally the program promotes the connections between loving care of animals and loving care of people. Horse Helpers found an avenue to teach children about equine rescue, about equine in general, and about compassionate human-to-human engagement through human-to-animal bonds. We also open the door for children to speak out if they see animal abuse and to speak out if they themselves are being abused. These concepts are masterfully and carefully crafted by Pace to provide strong, deep, and lasting educational moments.
We were ecstatic when in 2017, the Anne Cannon Trust awarded us a three-year grant commitment of $5000 a year. This gave us the flexibility to really experiment with improving the quality of and enhancing the best practices of the program. The first thing we began doing was giving each child a Chester’s Barn book at the end of a visit. Given that we target underserved populations, for many children this was the first book they had ever received. We began to reach beyond Avery, Ashe, and Watauga Counties.
With the success of Chester’s Barn, efforts are now underway for three more children’s books to be written. The first book is written by one of our volunteers, a wonderful 12-year-old young woman who has been part of Chester’s Barn and Horse Helpers since she was 6 years old. It is called Can You Find Me (geared to toddlers). Another book is tentatively titled Hank and Friends and a third book Brogan – A Grayson Highland Pony brings attention to the problems caused by thoughtless round up programs of feral and wild horses. We hope to record a reading of the book and song making it available in a special new Chester’s Barn Education Program section on our website. Also on this site will be a password protected section that includes all the teaching components and a virtual tour of the farm and animals for teachers outside of our scope. There is nothing more exciting then to have a child drag their parents across a parking lot or at the farm shouting “It’s Chester, Daddy look it’s Chester!!”