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Learning By Heart

A Chicago teacher uses TAILS to teach compassion, responsibility, and respect

By Kelsey Duckett

Chicago HeroMarty Black, a Chicago Public School teacher since 1990, had a desire early on in his career to “mix things up” in his classroom. A champion of cross-curricular learning, Black introduced his class to TAILS magazine and the world of animals.

Black came across TAILS for the first time in 1997 while working out at Bally’s Gym in Century Mall. It was at this time that a light bulb went off and the vision became clear for his elementary classroom.

“It’s a really good place to start when it comes to connecting to kids,” he says. “A love of animals brings a commonality between everyone. Pets make people happy, and this is an avenue to discuss animal issues.”

Black has his 4th and 5th grade students at Burroughs Elementary School in Brighton Park and Songahi Learning Institute on the South Side study the magazine to find an article or advertisement that they find interesting. They must then write a report and do an oral presentation to the class.

In addition to discussing the various topics in the issue, they also construct dogs and cats out of papier-maché. The students are encouraged to find photos of animals in the magazine to inspire their one-of-a-kind creations.

“The magazine is our tie-in. Not only are the kids learning about animals and animal issues, they are reading, writing, and discussing,” he says. “This is more than just an art project, this is bringing everything they are doing into play, while raising awareness about animals in need and the responsibility of having a pet.”

Black said a week doesn’t go by that he isn’t answering questions about shelter animals or abandoned pets, in particular. He feels good knowing the kids are becoming more socially conscious and empathic.

“We address what is happening to animals throughout the world,” he says. “We discuss the bonds that people form with animals, and the importance of having a relationship with an animal. It is not ownership, it is responsibility and having a friend.”

The students love bringing the magazine home to make sure their pet has had his or her shots and is otherwise being taken care of properly. Black said one boy even convinced his parents to have a dog microchipped after reading an article about the benefits.

“They are really into it,” he says proudly. “This is a practical class, and the students and their families get so much out of it. They need to learn what a pet is, and TAILS explores all facets of pets. It really reinforces issues that are important and that kids should be learning at a young age.”

“It is sad that more animals are not in the classroom because it gives these students a sense of responsibility and someone to take care of,” he adds. “Animals are great for all students. They learn to love and appreciate animals, and they learn to treat them with respect.”

Teaching the students is exactly what Black set out to do, and bringing a hip, new idea to the classroom has brought his kids right on board—reading, writing, discussing, and building.

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