Kings Academy first and second graders have had some unusual pen pals this year. Their letters start with 'Dear Horses.'
"Thank you for everything," Aariyah said reading her letter to a quarter horse named Zeus. "I can't wait to go to the barn with you. Your friend, Aariyah."
"One kid came in and said I'm not excited to be here. I'm REALLY excited," Equest Director of Program Quality & Development Amy Causey said.
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The trial Equine Assisted Literacy Program started two months ago, with some of the mini horses visiting kids at their school. Pen pal letters followed. On Wednesday, the students took a field trip to meet the horses and practice reading to them.
"I was like, how is that going to come together," Kings Academy Head of School Dr. Shailendra Thomas said, thinking back to when Equest suggested the program. "Just the spark in their eyes, and them wanting to read their letters, and wanting to read their stories; that's what learning is all about."
The children had a little time with mini horses in the area before walking over to the full-sized horses they've been writing to for the last two months, opening a book, and reading out loud.
"Horses come in all sizes," one boy read to a horse. When they stumbled on a word, they kept going.
"Horses are non-judgmental," Causey said. "You can learn a lot about yourself when you're around a horse because they tend to react to your energies and how you move."
The majority of the students at Kings Academy are living below the poverty line. Many of them have never seen a horse up close.
"And so this fills that social-emotional learning gap," Thomas said. "Because just care for the horses, grooming them, talking to them, writing them, learning about them; that promotes that social and emotional intelligence."
It's also a reward for learning.
"So they want to do their lessons," Causey said. "They want to continue to engage and learn the words so that they can come here and show the horses what they learned."