Most of us fondly remember our most influential teachers—the individuals who inspired us to change the world and gave us the know-how to do so. Dennis Yong, an AP environmental science and biology teacher at Canyon High School in Anaheim, California, is undoubtedly on many of his students’ “best teachers” lists. That’s because while he’s sharing his extensive knowledge of biological processes and ecosystems, he’s also helping them recognize the intricate connection between the Earth, humans, and other animals—and the significant impact that each of them has on the world around them.
Dennis cares deeply about animals and the environment, and through his teaching, his students come to care deeply as well. That’s why PETA is pleased to present him with this year’s Stolbun Compassionate Educator Award.
Dennis has replaced animal dissection in his curriculum with humane teaching tools, ensuring that students never have to sacrifice their morals for their education. He created the annual Compassion Challenge, which encourages students to try meat alternatives and explore plant-based living. One of his assignments involves having students humanely capture and release insects who have become stuck inside their homes. For extra credit, they can visit an animal shelter or rescue.
And the school’s environmental club—for which he’s the advisor—hosts discussions on animal agriculture’s impact on the planet and holds regular trash cleanups to protect local wildlife. Above all, Dennis says he wants students to leave his class with a desire to live by the Golden Rule—and with an understanding that everyone, regardless of species, is deserving of kindness.
The winner of The Stolbun Compassionate Educator Award receives an order of SynFrogs—hyper-realistic frog dissection models—for their school. Each year in the U.S., at least 3 million frogs are killed for dissection. This science “lesson” doesn’t teach anything valuable to our future leaders. Instead, dissection fosters callousness toward sentient beings, poses unnecessary health risks, and may discourage kind students from pursuing careers in science. PETA is hopeful that with SynFrogs, award winners can leverage vital changes throughout their school districts.
They’re also a hit with pupils! But don’t take our word for it—here’s what just a few students in Dennis’ class are saying:
Dennis embodies the spirit of Dr. Marty and Zoe Stolbun—the generous PETA Vanguard Society members who have made this award and the gift of SynFrogs possible. The Stolbuns are passionate about humane education and firmly believe that teaching compassion for animals in school is essential to promoting respect for all life. Experiences in each of their childhood classrooms—including when Marty rescued an animal before she could be dissected—shaped the Stolbuns’ views on education and led them to become the benevolent powerhouses they are today.