In 2000, we rented five acres of an eighty-acre piece of land for our two horse. It was completely overgrown with weeds, brush, and trees. We cleared a small portion of it for a riding area for the horses, but most of the time we would ride them in the neighborhood.
I was amazed to see the reaction of the children, as they would come from their houses and yards to see the horses as we rode. I knew at that time that there was a greater purpose for the horses than just our own pleasure of riding.
It was during my time in the classroom that I became aware of the range of different learning styles that the students had. I saw and taught many students who did not learn by the traditional teaching methods. In an effort to “capture” the hearts of these students, I would invite them and their families to come visit our pasture and spend time working and riding the horses. I was intrigued by the difference this made in the classroom for these students. It became apparent to me that once I had these students’ hearts, then their minds opened up academically.
Having developed a love for at-risk students, I began teaching Reading and Math Intervention only. The more that I integrated using the horses in the intervention learning process, the greater the results I observed. I filed as a nonprofit corporation and applied for a 501(c) 3 status to help fund the care and provision for the horses. Wanting to have more room for the students to ride, we made a trail through the five acres. Observing the tremendous response of the students with the horses, we named our trails New Life Trails Ministry Association (NLT). In 2012, I left the traditional classroom and worked solely as a Reading and Math Intervention Teacher for Ponca City Public School servicing Lutheran School.
In 2013, NLT partnered with Northern Oklahoma Academic Tutoring Foundation (NOATF) to provide a two week math, reading, science, and character camp for students having completed 3rd grade. We needed students to be present each day to legitimatize pre and post test score so we decided to provide a different animal each day. Due to the great response from the students, we had a 95% perfect attendance record. With the collection of these animals increasing, we needed a place for them to stay so I began building pens for them using pallets donated from local businesses. We did not have the finances to care for these animals, but we knew in our hearts that this was the path that would enable us to continue to reach the at-risk students. In 2014, we received our nonprofit status and were able to ask for donations to care for the animals. I observed that reading intervention was alarmingly slower in upper elementary compared to pre-k through first grade. I was unable to find an intervention curriculum that addressed the higher-grade levels so I wrote my own called New Life Learning. As a result of using animals and this curriculum, we continued to see great results at NLT.
In 2017, we integrated the schools’ required sight word list into the animal stories at New Life Trails to assist student in their reading competencies. We are continuing to see great results with our method of stories and videos of the animals and our animal picture pin rewards.
We take the animals into the community:
- Academic programs in the schools
- Character training at public, private, and home schools
- Nursing Homes, Counseling Centers
- Friendship Feast, Churches
- Kid DJ day at KLVV radio station
- Walmart fundraising benefits
- Tractor Supply Co. events
- Local store activities
Local companies and organizations:
- Phillips 66
- United Way
- Tom Henley Insurance
- Individual contributors