Behind the Scenes with Laura Chepner of Primary Veducation
Lisa talks to Laura about how her work with Primary Veducation is creating a vegan-inclusive education system.
Learn how Laura is empowering vegan children, parents, teachers (and herself!) to help revolutionise how schools recognise and cater for veganism.
You started out as a teacher working in primary education. What conflicts did you find between the classroom and your ethical vegan beliefs?
In every area of school life there was some form of promotion when it came to the use and abuse of animals. In Science I was expected to teach about food chains and dietary requirements that included meat, dairy, fish and eggs. In R.E. we taught about sacrifice and traditional meals that included animals. In literacy, we sang nursery rhymes about chopping off the tails of ‘…three blind mice’. And, in topics such as ‘On the Farm’ or ‘At the Zoo’, whole terms would be dedicated to teaching and learning based around these cruel and outdated institutions; with the obligatory visit too. That coupled with having to hand out mandatory dairy milk every day and see children eat lunches that never included a plant-based option made me feel extremely uncomfortable in my position as a teacher in mainstream education.
After leaving the classroom how did you then look to align how you made a living with your ethics?
Having been a part-time bar and restaurant supervisor, whilst studying my four-year BA in Primary Education, I thought that I would use my experience to open up my own vegan restaurant. My husband and I were raising our 2 year old daughter Lois in a beautiful little northern town that had one small high street and two butchers. We had a good selection of cafes and restaurants, but never any vegan options. I converted a Grade 2 listed building into a fully functional, 1920’s style, 100% vegan restaurant in 2015. ‘Lolo’s’ was my answer to ‘How can I veganise the world?’ and I loved every minute of being in my vegan bubble and proving that it could be done!
You got pulled back into the education sphere when your own daughter started school. Did you find that the situation had improved by then?
They say everything happens for a reason. Towards the back end of my first year in business I was diagnosed with Stage 3b Hodgkins Lymphoma. Not an ideal situation. Continuing to run the restaurant, whilst raising a 3 year old and going through treatment left me pretty frazzled and so I decided, with a heavy heart, to close Lolo’s in February 2018. The following September Lois started school and then my real life’s purpose hit me. She was refused vegan food on the principle that veganism is a ‘lifestyle choice’ and so not worth catering for. I then learnt of her classroom pet rabbits, the topics that she was learning about and so on. Nothing had improved and it struck me just how misunderstood veganism was.
I began to think that perhaps I could combine my experiences of having been a teacher and Senco (Special educational needs coordinator) along with my newfound skills of being a company director and create some sort of consultancy service that would work on behalf of other vegan parents and children, who just like me, felt excluded from the current education system.
What can parents do if they’re struggling to get their child’s school to engage with veganism?
Parents often don’t understand the power that they have at school. Head teachers are similar in a way to your MP in that ‘they work for you’. It is their job to meet the needs of your child and if it is the case that they simply don’t understand what veganism is, then I encourage all parents to be that source of education. Vegan parents are well within their rights to ask for meetings and then follow up meetings to show their world view in a friendly and informative way. Schools are supposed to be inclusive institutions where ‘Every Child Matters’ and I encourage vegan parents to know that that includes your vegan child too! If that kind of engagement is something that shoots dread into the heart of some people then they can always call on me to act as the intermediary. I would also recommend my Guidebook, ‘An Educator’s Guide for Vegan-Inclusive Teaching’. This book makes the perfect gift for education professionals who need guidance in this area but don’t quite know it yet!
'Parents often don’t understand the power that they have at school. Head teachers work for you. It is their job to meet the needs of your child'
Do you think that the education landscape is changing with its acceptance and education of veganism?
Short answer, no. There is a lot of work to be done including education on the use of live animals in classroom settings, annual trips to visit caged animals in various entertainment establishments, the non-existent implementation of plant-based options on menus and much more. In fact in every aspect of school life there can be improvements made. It is a huge task that requires a complete curriculum overhaul. Huge, but not impossible. In wider society attitudes are changing and more vegans are joining this growing movement than ever before. Many of these newbies will include teachers and parents of children already in mainstream education who will slowly and in their own way ask for little changes here and there. If I provide information, encouragement and resources for them to push forward eventually this will become the ‘norm’. That’s how the curriculum overhaul revolution starts, I hope!
What’s the next step for you and Primary Veducation?
Recently I spoke at the APPG on School Food asking for mandatory plant-based options on every school menu and so I will spend some time now following that up and pestering MP’s and Ministers until a review on school food is made.
I am also really proud to have joined forces with Tina Newman, author of ‘Vivi the Supervegan’ to create a KS1 Teaching and Learning resource pack which will encourage teachers to introduce an awesome vegan character into their classrooms. I have big plans to create many more exciting resources that schools will be able to access and a CPD accredited, vegan-inclusive online course that schools can use for staff training.
My top priority will always be to continue to support parents and schools through Primary Veducation and have many exciting collaborations on the horizon.
Learn more at Laura’s website here:
Lisa Fox says:
Laura has used her previous knowledge and skillset to create positive change for parents, children and schools alike.
Her tireless efforts prove that not only can you create a vegan business by veganising your existing skillset, you are also able to facilitate real change by using that as a vehicle, and move us closer to a vegan world.
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