Since 2006, Lisa Gatti and her staff at Pal-O-mine have reached out to schools across Long Island, N.Y. to help at-risk students through their Equine Assisted Learning (EA L) program. Gatti, a former teacher for at-risk students and lifelong equestrian, saw early on the benefits of EAL for students who can't succeed in a nontraditional setting. Pal-O-Mine, a nonprofit organization, was originally founded in 1995 and is affiliated with EAGALA, the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association.
Long Island districts including Copiague Public Schools, Central Islip Public Schools and Harborfields Central School District have partnered with Pal-O-Mine to customize EA L-based curricula for at-risk or special-needs students. Gatti seeks out grants, which range from $15,000 to $30,000 and fund the initial 12 weeks of the EAL program. Typically, students meet once per week during school hours, and transportation is provided.
"The curriculum focuses on life skills, character education and developmental assets, and are all tied to academic standards," says Gatti.
One example of a lesson plan, says Gatti, is teaching students punctuality while incorporating a history lesson about the Pony Express. Students begin their time learning the history and key vocabulary words, then they walk to different stations in the corral, which represent different states, to follow the trail while overcoming obstacles and arriving at their destinations on time. Students do not ride the horses, says Gatti, but rather interact with them and build a relationship.
"The horses really help these kids gain insight into their own patterns or feelings," says Gatti. "Lots of these kids are stuck or held back from reaching their own potential. Horses are nonjudgmental, aware and honest, and they lend themselves to be agents of change in these students. Kids who are otherwise disengaged from the educational process really connect with them."
EAGALA has 65 other groups, like Pal-O-Mine, participating with it around the country and over 3,000 members. Similar programs exist throughout the country in most states. To find a program near you, visit www.eagala.org/find_a_program.