Ember Academy K–3 Educator Is Crowned PETA’s Teacher of the Year

For Immediate Release:
May 9, 2024

Sara Groves 202-483-7382

Palm Bay, Fla.

To celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6–10), TeachKind—PETA’s humane education division—has named Ember Academy K-3 educator Zachary Behlok its 2024 Teacher of the Year for proving that it’s never too early to start teaching kids to be kind to everyone.

At Ember Academy in Melbourne, a small school that serves children who are neurodivergent, Behlok helps introduce students to vegan foods by creating nutritious, plant-focused menus through the school’s biweekly cooking classes. He also successfully advocated for the school to stop using animals for dissection—which is both cruel and ineffective—and switch to superior non-animal methods, including Biosphera anatomy software. In his classroom, he rewards students who help escort uninvited insects safely outdoors, which teaches them to have compassion for all animals.

Behlok also persuaded the school to forgo a proposed trip to SeaWorld—which imprisons far-ranging marine mammals in cramped concrete tanks—and he instead plans field trips to animal-friendly venues, including botanical gardens, nature trails, wildlife sanctuaries, a planetarium, a sunflower field that supports bee conservation, and the local Ben & Jerry’s store, where students can get scoops of vegan ice cream. (Fittingly, his favorite flavor is Colin Kaepernick’s Change the Whirled.)

“From sparing the lives of insects to ensuring that school activities leave animals in peace, Zachary Behlok shows his students how to be a hero to animals every single day,” says PETA Senior Director of Youth Programs Marta Holmberg. “TeachKind’s Teacher of the Year deserves a round of applause for proving that compassion belongs in every classroom.”

In addition to teaching at Ember Academy, Behlok provides free courses in animal behavior, ethics, and consciousness to college-level students through The Lawn Chair Philosophy Foundation, where he serves as vice president of the advisory board.

Behlok will receive a framed certificate and a prize package of animal-friendly goodies, including a vegan leather lunch bag from Modern Picnic. TeachKind also plans to work with Behlok throughout the year to help him develop ways to support and encourage other teachers to bring similar lessons into their classrooms.

TeachKind—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to abuse in any way”—opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview. For more information, please visit TeachKind.org or follow the group on Facebook or Instagram.

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