Some “sassy” cows are changing lives for special needs students at Riverview High School and Pepin Academies.
“It’s really fun to do it,” said Simeon, a ninth-grade ESE student from Pepin Academies.
The program challenges Exceptional Student Education (ESE) kids to take on something they typically wouldn’t try: raising cows and showing them at places like the Florida State Fair and the Florida Strawberry Festival.
“It’s for special needs kids that teaches skills in Agriculture,” said Zoe, a fourth-grade ESE student from Pepin Academies.
Riverview High School Agriculture Teacher, Karen Hamilton, started the program several years ago and was inspired by a special needs student named Joshua.
“I had a student who had Down’s Syndrome, and he showed a rabbit, but he wanted to show a cow. So, we got him a bottle baby. He bottle-fed it and named it “Sassy,” Hamilton said.
Joshua had several cows over his eight years in the Riverview FFA – all named… you guessed it, “Sassy.”
“So, we became “Sassy Cows,” and we added to it the “Sassy Cows 4 Savvy Kids. When we moved to the high school, we also extended our invitation to the Pepin Academies special needs students,” said Riverview High School Agriculture Teacher Karen Hamilton.
“I love to hang out with animals, so getting to hang out with a cow is super fun,” Zoe said.
But students are tasked with more than just paling around with the cows. “It teaches me responsibility of taking care of an animal that when it gets older it produces milk,” said Nicolas, a Pepin Academies ESE seventh-grader.
The “savvy kids” have assigned days after school and on weekends that they have to care for the cows.
“You’ve got to walk your cow, feed it,” Simeon said.
“Give her some water and she’ll be okay. As long as you talk to her, she’ll be okay,” Nicholas said.
“It teaches you life skills that you need to learn to take care of yourself and your own animals when you grow up,” said Zoe.
Hamilton couldn’t be prouder of what the students take away from the program.
“Good work ethic behind that. They all do record books. They speak to the public, so they’re learning to communicate,” said Hamilton.
Simeon knows showmanship is also key, “You’ve got to keep the head up straight and smile.”
Regular education agriculture students, who also have an interest in raising and showing cows, are paired up with the ESE students as “Buddies” and act as mentors.
“Sometimes it’s the students who have cattle already that they’re showing, and they partner up with the special needs students. So, when they go out into the show ring, if they sometimes get distracted by what’s in the audience, and they wave to mom and let go of the cows, somebody’s there to help,” Hamilton said.
Allee, a Riverview High School Junior, teaches the students how to clip, clean and walk the cows on a halter.
“I enjoy working with them. I feel like it’s a great opportunity for them to learn about the animals. I enjoy teaching them, and watching them understand new concepts as they learn,” said Allee.
“Having a buddy, when I get lost thinking, it helps me think of what I really need to work on,” Nicholas said.
The program operates off grants and donations to cover the feed, hay, medical expenses and veterinary bills.
The school leases the calves from dairy farms across the state. The cows arrive in September, and the students work with them through the Strawberry Festival. Then, the calves go back to the dairies and students get new animals to care for in the fall.
The students compete for money and ribbons.
“You can be in first place, or second place, or third place,” Simeon explained.
But for Hamilton and participants, the true rewards are the lessons learned and the bonds formed.
“I just love working with them and seeing the progress they make,” said Hamilton.
“I love doing it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Allee.
“And also, I think they’re really cute,” Zoe said as she hugged her cow, Cupcake.
For more information on the Sassy Cows 4 Savvy Kids Program or to donate: https://sassycows4savvykids.weebly.com/
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