Students with Autism Celebrate the Horse Every Day at Chicago Agricultural High School


HOUSTON, Jan. 31, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Every year is "The Year of the Horse" at Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. On the last farm in the third largest city in the nation, urban students attend school on a 72-acre campus that offers animal science classes in a working barn. Before last year, students categorized with "special needs" – 18% of the student body – missed out on barn visits because no teacher was qualified as a therapeutic riding instructor. That changed when Maggie Kendall designed a Fund for Teachers grant to become certified through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship over the summer.

"My certification completely changed the landscape of our animal science program and how our 'regular ed' and 'special ed' students interact," said Kendall. "Teachers always used horses as learning tools within the curriculum, but no student riding program existed before my fellowship. Now, students occupy the barn all day, every day, with special needs kids coming most often because of the hands-on work and exposure to life skills. Able-bodied students actually seek out students with special needs, asking to partner up as mentors."

The impact of these relationships is profound. One 17-year-old student with autism tells his parents about friends from the barn—his parents say he's never before had friends. A different student, who doesn't speak, smiles confidently on a horse others find ill-tempered: The student communicates with the horse using body movements, not words, and the horse respects the student's quiet demeanor. Another special needs student weeps each day as he grooms the horses. Kendall feared the experience was overwhelming or frightening, but teachers say the barn is a safe place for him to release pent up emotions.

Building on the program's success, Kendall pursued entering students in Special Olympics' equestrian events last fall. One hitch: Athletes must compete regionally before qualifying for the state meet and there are no Special Olympics equestrian events in Chicago. So, the school is hosting its own competition this spring.

"The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act's principal of least restrictive environment states: 'To the maximum extent appropriate, students with disabilities are educated with students who do not have a disability.' The horse program at Chicago Ag is a shining example of this principle at work and is enhancing the education of the entire student body," said Kendall.

Kendall is one of 5,500 preK-12 teachers who have pursued new knowledge or skills with Fund for Teachers grants. Since 2001, Fund for Teachers has invested $20 million in teachers' self-designed fellowships to advance student achievement. The 2014 Fund for Teachers Fellows will be announced on the organization's website by April 4. For more information, visit or call 1-800-681-2667.

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CONTACT: Carrie Pillsbury Fund for Teachers 713.296.6776 Carrie.Pillsbury@fundforteachers.orgSource:Fund for Teachers