Friday, May 21, 2010

Hope Meets Faith at Velma Alma School in Oklahoma

The idea for a compassion based educational program at Velma-Alma School began back in 2005 when Kathy Barton adopted her own special needs dog Hope who was born deaf and blind. From the very first moment that Hope began interacting with her fourth graders, Kathy realized that she had discovered a powerful teaching tool.

The children were naturally curious and concerned about Hope’s disability and immediately began brainstorming about ways they could reach out to other handicapped pets in need. Ms. Barton and her class posted their offer to provide fundraising assistance on the discussion forum at and began connecting with owners of special needs pets.

Every year since 2005, Kathy Barton has conducted her signature “How do you teach compassion?” humane education program for her fourth grade class at the Velma-Alma School in Velma, Oklahoma. Through a combination of classroom instruction, special projects, interaction with handicapped animals and fundraising efforts, the students learn the importance of accepting differences and protecting and providing for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Over the course of two weeks, the fourth graders devote a portion of each school day to learning ways that people can assist handicapped pets to live healthy, happy lives by providing accommodations such as specialized care and equipment to help them overcome their unique challenges. The students also participate in a variety of hands on learning activities and conduct fundraisers to raise money for pets in need of wheelchairs.

Last year, Kathy Barton refused to let her own battle against breast cancer get in the way of the program. She simply postponed it a few months until she was strong enough to coordinate various activities such as fundraising, assemblies, guest speakers and a first ever pet parade! The 2009 program featured a parade complete with 55 dogs, 3 cats, 1 pony and even a lizard proudly marching in support of demonstrating compassion to one another.

The “How do you teach compassion?” program has become a favorite part of the curriculum and something that the children anticipate the most about being fourth graders at Velma-Alma school.

Recently, preparations for the 2010 program were about to begin when Kathy learned that one of her own students was suffering from bone cancer. So, she gently explained to her students that they would not conduct their annual program so they could focus their fundraising support for fellow student Montana Keenan and his medical care. Velma is a small, rural community of only approximately 700 people, so Kathy understandably did not want her program to compete with efforts to create awareness for Keenan.

Although disappointed, the children understood the need to redirect their energy and immediately began supporting the effort. A number of fellow fourth graders even shaved their heads bald as a show of support for Keenan as he began chemotherapy treatments.

A few days after learning about this new direction from Kathy, happened to receive a call from Jude Stringfellow - owner of Faith the two-legged dog that walks upright on her rear legs like a human being. One of Faith's friends - a Rottweiler named Schautzi needed a Walkin' Wheels dog wheelchair because she could no longer use her rear legs. was pleased to assist Schautzi with getting back on her feet.

Upon discovering that Jude resided in Oklahoma and then conversing about fellow Oklahoman Kathy Barton, asked if Jude and Faith would make a special visit to the students at Velma-Alma School this year. Despite the very short notice, Jude and Faith agreed that it was meant to be and they would travel to Velma to meet with Kathy, her students and her dog Hope. The program took place on May 20, 2010, and we are so thrilled to be able to share photos from our visit with the wonderful students, faculty and staff at Velma-Alma School. We hope that you will check out our photo album to see more of our visit with Faith and Hope.

Most importantly, we hope that you will consider supporting the efforts of the small town of Velma by making a contribution to assist Montana in his battle against bone cancer. A fund has been set up for Montana at the First National Bank and Trust Company of Ardmore, Oklahoma.

Donations may be made payable and mailed as follows: Becky Keenan FBO Montana Keenan, First National Bank - Ardmore, P.O. Box 69, Ardmore, OK 73402.

To learn more about Kathy Barton and her remarkable students, please see the recent article from Purina’s Rally to Rescue magazine that summarizes how the program began and all that it has accomplished since 2005.

You can also see a short video clip of Faith during our visit.


John said...

What a great program, I hope we get something like that launched in my neck of the woods asap.

michelle said...

Thank you for sharing your "How do you teach compassion" program beyond the classroom through this blog. Kathy Barton has remarkable students because she is a remarkable teacher. And Hope and Faith... oh what loveable role models!

Lisa Taron (aka Pet Book Lady) said...

Really enjoy your blog! I shared this post on my FB page. Thanks for all that you do.

Anonymous said...

So sad to learn of the news about Faith. She has left her mark on this world and has educated millions. Brought lost of smiles to the world and has changed the minds of many about having a handy capped pet. I'm so glad the kids in OK got to meet her. Kathy has managed to create a great group of compassionate young people that will soon be changing the world.
We also lost Fandango to cancer this year, the Blue pitbull pictured. It's a sad year but I know they now run free. Kathi Taylor