Jasmine Morris harnesses the therapeutic power of animals for underserved students
This summer, Jasmine Morris ’23 (CAHNR) is working with students from the Horizons program at Ethel Walker School in Simsbury to teach them about animal science and support their social-emotional learning.
Horizons is a national program that supports underserved elementary and middle school students through programs that promote equity in education. The Ethel Walker School program is for students who attend public schools in Hartford.
Morris, a native of East Hartford, Connecticut, has volunteered with Horizons at Ethel Walker School, the first girls-only Horizons program, for seven years.
The summer after her sophomore year, Morris returned to volunteering with the program, which had not operated in person since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She observed that many students had difficulty adjusting to their return to class.
“These kids needed an outlet for what they were feeling,” Morris says.
Morris thought back to her own time in college where she had the opportunity to benefit from the Youth Ambassador K-9 program, a program that taught students about the field of working dogs. Morris recalls having therapy dogs there while teachers talked to him and his classmates after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and bombing Boston Marathon in 2013.
“For me, it was really about thinking back to my own experience and what helped me,” says Morris. “Even though I didn’t understand why at the time, I knew I felt better since the dog was there.”
Morris wanted to harness the therapeutic power of animals for this generation of students.
With the support of a UConn IDEA grant, Morris provides students with hands-on experience with animals and teaches them about the field of animal science.
Morris’ lessons highlight traditional and lesser-known aspects of animal science, including guest speakers such as zoologists, researchers, pet food sales representatives, veterinarians and wildlife rehabilitators.
Morris says she hopes to inspire these students to consider studying animal science and pursuing a career in the field.
“The field is so big,” says Morris. “It’s something I want to share with them.”
Ever since kindergarten, Morris knew she wanted to work with animals. But at the time, she thought the only way to do that was to be a veterinarian.
“UConn Animal Science opened my eyes to the breadth of the animal science field,” says Morris. “It wasn’t until I attended UConn that I really got to appreciate just how vast animal science can be.”
Morris lessons are held three times a week, with animal care information that links to social-emotional learning. For example, students learn how to safely approach animals while discussing reading human body language.
“All of my classes are centered around giving them access to things that they wouldn’t get during their normal school experience,” says Morris.
As part of the project, Horizons students had the opportunity to tour the Storrs campus, see the facilities, and get a glimpse of what life as an animal science student could be like.
Through UConn’s Animal Science program, Morris was able to learn about animal-assisted therapy and specializes in therapeutic riding education.
Morris wants to pursue this type of work after graduating, planning to continue her studies for a master’s degree in social work focusing on human-animal interactions. She thanks several supporters for their help which guided her towards this project: her project advisor and associate professor Neag Tamika La Salle, the Reverend Augustus Sealy who inspired Morris and motivated her to apply for this project, and Linda Blick , his longtime mentor. .
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