Born and raised in rural Illinois, Maggie Kendall, a teacher now in her late thirties, has had a close bond with animals since her childhood. That is why Kendall’s classroom is different in many aspects from other traditional classrooms. A tabby cat delicately nibbling food spilled on the floor, a python hissing idly inside a glass tank, or a yellow Labrador teasing a student is regular phenomenon here. This is a unique place in Chicago.
Farmers Insurance awarded a $100,000 grant for CPS horse teacher Kendall so that she could build an indoor horse arena for mentally and physically challenged students. Head of Farmers' Great Lakes territory, Kirk Parker was overwhelmed when he heard about Maggie and her work. Maggie’s efforts seem extraordinary to him as they stand out in comparison to anything he knows of in that manner anywhere else in the country.
Kendall was a teacher at Walter Payton College Prep but three years ago she left the job and joined the South Side School to work in animal sciences. Her motto is to make sure that the students are having fun while they are learning new things. In the summer time, about ten students ride the therapy horses two to three times a week. In the winter however it often becomes too cold for the students to ride out in the open. This is why the new facility is important to have, Kendall insists.
Kendall’s types of teaching activities vary throughout the day. Sometimes she engages her students in searching through animal faces for signs of parasites. Other times they might take a horse’s vital signs to check how he’s doing. Or maybe, they could try to find out the time of vaccination for a pregnant goat. With the grant money, Maggie is going to build an indoor facility for therapy horses, that would help students deal with everything from autism to paralysis.
Kendall thinks it’s natural for kids to enjoy the company of animals even if they are from cities. Shane, an autistic child joined her program two and half years ago. When he came, Shane could barely speak a word. Now he speaks all the time on a variety of subjects from movies to horse riding.
A freshman girl from a broken family came to the barn two years ago. She routinely picked fights with other kids and did not care to listen to her teachers, even yelling at them sometimes. On the very first day, Kendall asked her if she would like to groom one horse. She happily agreed and when she started grooming him, Kendall saw her breakdown and found her sobbing into the animal’s neck. Now she is a changed girl. Those who knew her earlier would not recognize her now. This year she was called out of class to do tours.
Kendall hopes that the construction work of the arena will be completed by late next year. She says the facility will stay open after regular school time for the local public.