On nice days, regular travelers along Philadelphia’s Henry Avenue aren’t surprised to see empty cars parked on a stretch of the busy road, drivers a few feet away visiting the “Saul horses.” Adored by residents city-wide, the animals in their field (safely behind a fence) are a delightful sight on this congested thoroughfare.
The horses live on the 55-acre campus of Walter B. Saul High School, an agricultural oasis nestled between Philadelphia’s verdant Fairmount Park on one side and included the urban Roxborough neighborhood on the other.
Saul is the largest agricultural magnet high school in the country. Its four agricultural programs — horticulture, natural resource management, animal science, and food science and processing — draw students from across Philadelphia. The campus boasts a working farm, with sheep, cows, and horses, as well as an extensive vegetable and flower garden – crops are sold through a local farm share — tended by more than 500 students, their teachers, and farm staff.
“People ask all the time if we’re a private school – but, nope, we’re a Philly public school,” said Tiffany Turrentine, EdD, a small animal/veterinary technology instructor at Saul and alumna of the school. “We’re a special, tightly knit community of kids and adults who love animals and are interested in the relationship between animals, environment, and people.”
In other words, Saul is a very One Health place.
Stewarding Us Into Tomorrow
Most students start at Saul with little to no agriculture experience. Some are encouraged to apply by parents who went to the school and others are interested in “working with animals” or having a “nontraditional” classroom experience. Many begin high school wanting to be veterinarians and leave with new interests after gaining hands-on experience.
“Our goal is to promote careers in or related to agriculture,” said Turrentine. “But really our alumni are everywhere. We have some in upper- level management in Fortune 500 companies. We have business owners, veterinarians and vet techs, nurses and doctors, dental technicians and dentists, psychologists, physical therapists, teachers, policymakers, you name it.”
Whatever their ultimate professional path, she added, “Students graduate from Saul with a strong foundation they can build on in any situation. And we nurture them to be good stewards of all earth’s resources – human, plant, and animal.”
Addisyn Carbaugh, a senior this year, is a case in point. “I feel as though the people this school is creating, myself including, are going to build a better world because we’re always thinking about ways to do better for our communities, for agriculture that feeds us, and for animals in our homes.”
Partnership and Lifelong Learning with Penn Vet
Saul is close to Penn Vet — roughly 10 miles from Ryan Hospital and 40 miles from New Bolton Center. The high schoolers benefit from the proximity to an institution that leads
in developing and teaching sound, safe, and sustainable agriculture practices and animal care.
“Throughout the years, Saul has connected with Penn Vet often,” said Turrentine, adding that Saul students regularly visit both Penn Vet campuses, and Penn Vet students frequently present at Saul on careers in veterinary medicine. “Penn Vet offers our students added exposure to what real-world veterinary medicine is about and shows them how agricultural science advances every day.”
But, for Saul teachers, learning isn’t left to the students.
“Part of being a teacher is preaching the value of lifelong learning,” said Kelsey Romano, Saul’s special education compliance monitor and learning support teacher.
When she first arrived at Saul four years ago, Romano “really didn’t know much about animals and animal welfare and saw my lack of knowledge as an opportunity to be a better teacher by becoming a student again.”
Enter Penn Vet once again.
A Model for Everyone
Romano enrolled in Penn Vet’s Graduate Certificate in Animal Welfare and Behavior program, which is designed for working professionals and science graduates looking to deepen their understanding of animal welfare, behavior, and human-animal interactions. She earned her certificate last year.
“I learned so much,” she said. “Saul’s animals are important teachers on our campus and knowing how to best ensure their welfare is key to honoring and caring for them, while creating a culture dedicated to the betterment of people and animals alike.”
During the program, which is four courses each running seven weeks, Romano gained an understanding of animal welfare and behavior. She and her fellow program participants learned how to identify evidence-based solutions to welfare challenges facing individual animals and organizations and industries.
“And it wasn’t only the coursework that taught me,” said Romano. “I brought my learnings to my students, who would then apply the new knowledge to their own understanding of animals. We were all learning together. It was an amazing experience for everyone.”
Diamond Waters, a Saul junior, agreed: “Animals give us so much. We need to be able to give back – to treat them well and care for them and to show others how to as well.”
Now, it’s Turrentine’s turn. She began the certificate course in September.
“Saul is a model school and other schools in the country look to us,” said Turrentine. “They’re watching what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. If we’re going to be that premier model, we better have it right. And how do we keep it right? Continual education. The Penn Vet program is an example. It’s beneficial for teachers, which is beneficial for students. And it contributes to Saul’s position today and in the future as a leading urban agriculture high school with an animal science program.”
Moving Learning Forward
But all the teaching and learning only matters on a large scale if it’s carried forward. Saul students take their responsibility seriously as ambassadors for the animals that mean so much to them.
“I always thought I’d be a veterinarian,” said senior Zachary Crawford. “But I’ve become interested in animal behavior. It’s opened new ideas for me to explore in college and as a possible career, maybe in agriculture or maybe not – and even if I pursue being a large or small animal veterinarian, I already know a lot about animal welfare and behavior.”
More immediately Waters carries her learning forward every day: “I always have something to talk about with my family and friends – they’re curious about Saul and about agriculture and taking care of animals. I get them even more interested. At any time, I can just start a conversation with questions like, ‘Hey, did you know this about sheep? Or this about cows?’ My friends love it and so do I.”