By Sarah Sikandar
Signal Staff Writer
Dennis Yong’s classroom is cruelty-free – he doesn’t force anything on his students, but he hopes to teach them the benefits of a humane, healthy lifestyle.
Yong teaches biology and AP environmental sciences at Canyon High School. He is this year’s runner-up for TeachKind – the humane education division of People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals – which announced its 2022 Teacher Appreciation Contest this month. He was also a runner-up for PETA’s 2019 Teacher Appreciation Contest.
This year, he has been recognized again for his work in, and outside, the classroom to help his students adopt a humane and cruelty-free approach to animals, through diet choices, direct action, and understanding the ecosystem.
“Through creative classroom assignments, field trips to restore local habitats, and much more, Yong is helping his students explore the animal issues they’re passionate about — and, along the way, teaching them compassion for all sentient beings,” a statement from PETA says.
Yong’s teaching philosophy is simple – help his students become better humans.
“Part of being a good human being is to be caring, kind and compassionate. I use my curriculum to teach those basic principles and to care about the planet and animals, and which eventually will lend itself to caring about our own members of the species. We will automatically care about others when we care about animals.”
He wishes the next generation is more tied to each other but also be more tied to animals “so we can look critically at the impacts of our own actions whether it be to the Earth or to the animals, or to each other.”
Yong’s teaching is a composite of various methods and techniques. That includes working with the school’s environment club Eco Chicos, Compassion Challenge project and analyzing documentaries and discussions on the issue.
“Whether he’s discussing the impact of animal agriculture or leading field trips to protect marine life, Dennis Yong is helping his students think critically about how our actions affect others,” says PETA Senior Director of Youth Programs Marta Holmberg. “TeachKind is delighted to honor him for building innovative curricula that inspire young people to champion justice for animals.”
Yong’s focus remains on food production and consumption, to help his students understand the food industry’s impact on animals, the environment and human health. One of his favorite documentaries is “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret,” which talks about the environmental impact of factory farming and animal agriculture on the planet.
“The issue of diet is huge,” Yong says, “and it’s something that my students can make a change in every day. So, three times a day they can practice being more compassionate by shifting more to plant-based versus consuming more meat products.” These little actions also help his students understand lifestyle diseases and ethics of food production.
Yong is impressed by their commitment to understand animal cruelty and make smart choices through projects that introduce them to be kinder toward animals. He understands, however, that it takes time and understanding rather than overnight changes.
“My approach is not everybody has to go plant-based the next day,” he says when helping his students adopt kinder alternatives. One such project is the “Compassion Challenge” where Yong’s students understand change and track their monthly progress. The goal is to shift to a plant-based and cruelty-free diet to alleviate some of that suffering and some of the violence inflicted on these animals.
By introducing concepts like Meatless Monday, or doing Weekday Veg, he reinforces the idea of reduction in consumption of meat “to eliminate the suffering of animals, lowering your carbon footprint and also making yourself healthier by not introducing so much cholesterol into your diet.”
Yong’s goal is not to tell his students what to do, but to present them with information. For many of these classroom projects, students don’t get extra credit but the motivation for long-term change toward a healthier lifestyle. “It’s hard to discuss these issues because it’s so engrained in our personal lives, and in our culture. Instead, you hit them with scientific facts and information they can take home, understand, and act accordingly.”
Yong’s eco-conscious and animal-friendly class is popular with students. Instead of monotonous teaching, he instills responsibility and consciousness of the world around them, to take positive action. “In the term ‘activism,’ the root word is action,” and that’s what makes him proud of his students. “I always remind them, make sure you have a cause, or a purpose of why you’re doing it.”
For more information, visit TeachKind.org.