A school project is the furthest thing from the minds of most Idaho students once class has been dismissed for the summer. But for a select group of kids at Hailey's Sage School, their class project has become their passion—and their advocacy.
Students and educators at Sage stood before the Ketchum City Council in May 2014 and convinced city lawmakers to institute a ban on exotic circus animals, a first-of-its-kind ordinance for any city in Idaho—or Nevada or Wyoming, for that matter.
"The hope of our school is to see our kids engage with real-world connections," said Chris McAvoy, lead teacher for sixth- and seventh-graders at Sage. "But remember, they're kids; they're normal kids."
Those same kids accomplished the not-so-normal task of next convincing Blaine County commissioners to send the word out to travelling circuses featuring animal acts that they were not welcome. But the new county ordinance only extended the ban to unincorporated areas of Blaine County. The schoolkids' toughest fight was in their hometown of Hailey where the city council dug in its heals, permitting the Jordan World Circus to come to their town on June 6.
Esteban Fassio, advertising and event booking manager at Jordan World Circus, told Boise Weekly that the kids and their supporters didn't "have proof enough" to support claims of animal abuse or neglect.
"They've poisoned the kids' minds and we're not responsible for what we are being judged for," said Fassio, adding that the circus doesn't own the animals and hires USDA-approved trainers to work with the animals.
Undaunted, the students, along with parents and Sage School staff, took their cause to the gates of the circus when it appeared in Hailey.
"This is why we all are doing this," said Maya Burrell, Sage School teacher and mentor to the student initiative. "Everyone did a fantastic job, and I mean everyone: the ones who were able to get there and the ones who supported us from afar. This was exceptional."