Hands shot into the air, a roomful of second graders at Jeremy Ranch Elementary School anxiously waiting to be called on. Laurie Holbrook-Jorgensen, a Friends of Animals Utah volunteer and former Park City School District teacher, stood at the front of the class, preparing to teach the class all about animal safety, pet responsibility, spaying and neutering and animal cruelty.
Holbrook started teaching the hour-long lesson last spring and is carrying it into a new year, speaking with new students. During the 2011-12 school year, Friends of Animals Utah visited Jeremy Ranch and McPolin Elementary Schools, as well as the Weilenmann School of Discovery, where more than 600 students were reached through 22 separate classroom visits.
"I used to be a PCSD teacher so I contacted the guidance counselors in the district to see if they would be interested," Holbrook said, "and there was overwhelming interest."
"Now, we are growing the program," she added. "There are six other adult volunteers who are helping me, and that's allowing us to spread out. With more volunteers and plenty of interest, that makes growing the program easier."
As the support for the class continues to grown, Bigelow said she sees the real impact.
"Since I started doing this class, I have had a lot of adults ask me how many dog bites I've prevented," she said. "How do you judge that? When a kid sees a dog, they want to hug them, and that's not the right response. That's why we're doing this."
The main focus of the lesson is on animal safety, how to approach an unfamiliar dog or how to avoid being attacked. Students practiced the lesson with Tootsie, rescue dog belonging to Holbrook.
According to data collected by Friends of Animals Utah, roughly 60 percent of all reported animal bites involve an injury to a child. Approximately 70 percent of dog bite wounds are inflicted on a child's face.
In a place like Park City where dog ownership is prevalent, Mindy Nelson, a counselor at Jeremy Ranch, said bringing these lessons into the schools made perfect sense.
"In an area like Park City, we have a lot of dogs," she said. "This topic seems perfect for children."
"I think this topic is relevant because my own children have grown up here and I remember how they went through periods, where there were so many animals around it was frightening for them. And it can be that way for a lot of small children."
"Every year, we have several kids in our school who get bit," Nelson added. "We want them to be here at school, to be safe, to not have to deal with those issues."
Holbrook said the organization plans to hold the next Friends of Animals Utah on Oct. 29 and Nov. 1 from 9-9:45p.m. For more information, visit http://foautah.org.