2011 Assessment from Humane Living Camp

Summary of Findings from the 2011 Evaluation of the Summer of Excellence Humane Living Camp

William Ellery Samuels, Ph.D.
Director of Assessment
Department of Education
The College of Staten Island/CUNY 

What We Did

HEART partnered with the Hunt’s Point Alliance for Children, a community-based youth intervention group, to conduct a summer camp with disadvantaged girls in the sixth and seventh grades who lived in Hunt’s Point. The summer camp enriched a slightly modified and abbreviated version of HEART’s popular Humane Living Program with frequent field trips and student-centered activities to enrich and reinforce the unit’s goals.

At the beginning and end of the program, we asked the participating girls to write down as many responses as they could to the following prompts:

– What are problems or dangers that animals like dogs or cats might face?
– What are ways that we can help animals like dogs and cats?
– What are problems or dangers that animals who live on farms (like cows, pigs and chickens)?
– What are ways that we can help animals who live on farms (like cows, pigs and chickens)?
– What are problems or dangers that wild animals might face?
– What are ways that we can help wild animals?
– What are some of the biggest problems that young people face?
– What are ways that we can help young people?
– What are problems or dangers facing the environment?
– What are ways that we can help the environment?

We analyzed the girls’ responses in two broad ways. First, we measured how many discrete responses the girls made to each prompt. Seeing if the girls generated more responses after the summer camp program versus before can test if the quantity of their responses is affected by their participation in the program.

Second, we asked three independent researchers who are experienced with doing so to rate every one of the girls’ responses based on four criteria. The four criteria were: (1) feasibility, how practical the response was, (2) self-referentiality, how much the response referred to the girl or people like her (e.g., people in her community or other girls like her), (3) sophistication, how much the response reflected an advanced understanding of the given issue, and (4) program alignment, how much the response was related to content covered in the summer camp program. The feasibility criterion was only used to rate the girls’ responses to prompts about solutions (e.g., “What are ways that we can help the environment?”). Comparing pre- versus post-program ratings allowed us to test if the quality of the girls’ responses changed.

What We Found

We found no significant difference between the number of responses the girls made before the program compared to after it. Although the quantity of responses did not go up over the program, in several ways, their quality did.

First, we found that they indeed did learn about the problems facing most of the groups and solutions that can help them. For every group except wild animals, the girls produced responses with either problems or solutions after the program that were more aligned with the summer camp’s content than they were before. The increase for young people, farm animals, and the environment was in the girls’ understandings of the problems faced; for companion animals, the increase was in the ways to help them. Participating in the summer camp enriched the girls’ understanding of the issues facing other young people and animals—both in the girls’ communities and around the world.

The girls didn’t simply learn facts, though. The girls were able to produce significantly more realistic and effective solutions for these groups after participating in the summer camp. Their understandings of the problems faced by young people and farm animals was also more sophisticated; the solutions they generated for the issues facing companion and farm animals were also both more sophisticated.

Perhaps most importantly, they also showed that they had learned effective strategies for helping young people and companion animals. Their proposed strategies for ways to help these groups were significantly more feasible after participating in the camp.

The self-referentiality did not change significantly, but was already showing a beneficial pattern before the program started: The girls’ tended to see themselves as part of the solution even to problems they saw as being caused by forces larger than themselves.

What It Means

The summer camp program seems to have helped these girls deepen their understanding of the issues facing animals, children, and the environment in several ways. The appreciation of their role in helping these vulnerable groups that they brought to the program was guided in ways that helped them understand effective strategies to address root causes of important problems.

Their awareness grew most markedly about issues affecting other children, and both companion and farm animals. This may mean that the girls were most “ready” to learn about these topics—all were groups already rather close to their lives. There may be a simpler answer, however. The summer camp program spent more time addressing the plights of young people and companion animals than the other groups, so the stronger gains may mean the summer camp program is more effective at addressing the issues it covers the most.

In either case, the program was effective. The girls came away from this brief but rich experience with more profound appreciations of the problems faced by many of the vulnerable inhabitants of this world—and this world itself.