Community Voices

PETA honors Miami teacher for fostering her students’ love for animals

Magaly Madrid is the first Miami-Dade County teacher to win PETA’s TeachKind Teacher of the Year award. Pictured, Madrid and her first-grade students complete the book “Buddy Unchained,” based on a true story about an abused dog who was rescued by a animal shelter worker and adopted by a loving and caring family.
Magaly Madrid is the first Miami-Dade County teacher to win PETA’s TeachKind Teacher of the Year award. Pictured, Madrid and her first-grade students complete the book “Buddy Unchained,” based on a true story about an abused dog who was rescued by a animal shelter worker and adopted by a loving and caring family. Photo provided by Magaly Madrid

The world is a lot better with teachers like Miami Beach’s Magaly Madrid. The reading specialist at Downtown Miami Charter School spends every day fostering in her students a love and compassion for animals.

Madrid recently was named 2017 Teacher of the Year by TeachKind, PETA's humane-education division. She is the first teacher in Miami-Dade County to win the national award.

“My mission is to inspire compassion and empathy for people, all species, and the planet while encouraging children to think about the biggest problems facing our world today and empowering them to discover and implement solutions that create a better world for all,” Madrid said in an email.

As a grade 3–6 reading teacher, she assigns humane-themed books, such as “The One and Only Ivan” about a real-life gorilla who suffered in captivity in a shopping mall, and “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?” that encourages positive behavior in children by showing them how easy and rewarding it is to fill their invisible “buckets” with kindness, appreciation and love.

“She spends every day fostering her students' compassion for animals,” PETA's Senior Director of Youth Outreach and Campaigns Marta Holmberg wrote in email. “From including animal-friendly books in her curriculum to hosting a daily after-school program that equips kids with the knowledge and skills that they need to promote cat and dog adoption, protest circuses and petting zoos that hurt animals, and more, Madrid is teaching her students to see themselves as powerful agents of change with the ability to make the world a kinder place for all living beings.”

Madrid also has a humane-education club that meets after school for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. She serves vegan snacks at meetings. Younger students focus on helping homeless dogs and cats through toy and food drives. Older students learn how animals suffer when they are used for human entertainment.

She said in one project they designed posters and protested Ringling Bros. circus in Miami. The students also wrote a letter to local officials expressing concern that animals were used in a petting zoo at an Easter event and the officials pledged not to have animal exhibitions at any future events.

In one true-story book, “Buddy Unchained,” which she taught to first graders, Madrid said her students learned about “a chained dog completely neglected by his caretakers, who was rescued by a animal shelter worker, and was adopted into a loving and caring family.”

“The story inspires responsibility, empathy, and kindness towards animals,” she said.

She also runs a program for schools called EverydayHUMANE that is part of the Ahimsa Project, an international organization that works towards “creating lasting social change through programs and tools that inspire compassionate choices for people, animals, and our planet.” To learn more, visit www.everydayhumane.org.

A good life

The world is a lot better because Eli Gersten lived. The retired South Miami veterinarian who died May 4 at age 93 loved to help animals and people.

He also loved to dance and he did so into his 90s in classes for seniors at the Alper JCC Miami.

Eli met his future wife Gloria “Glory” Phillips at a B'nai B'rith function in 1949. They shared just one five-minute dance and he asked for her phone number.

He came to her home and met her mother the next day. Eli asked both if he could marry Glory, but the young woman said, “I like you but we don’t know each other. If we date for six months and fall in love, I’ll marry you.”

She was 21 and he was 26. They were together for 68 “hard but wonderful years,” Glory said in a beautiful handwritten letter.

Eli was a veterinarian for 50 years. He told his parents when he was 5 and living in the Bronx, New York that he wanted to be a dog and cat doctor when he grew up. He used his sister’s doll carriage to search the neighborhood streets for small animals and he brought them to the local vet.

“In his mind he was rescuing them,” Glory said. “He brought so many to the vet’s office, the vet charged him 25 cents for every pet Eli brought in. The pet owners all knew little Eli had taken their pets to the vet’s office. Remarkably they never stopped him.”

At 18, Eli entered Auburn University and graduated in the upper third of his class, Glory said.

After working in vet’s offices in New York, he entered the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps in 1947 and served for five years. He was a captain in the Army living in Los Angeles when he met Glory.

They moved to Miami and Eli opened the South Miami Animal Clinic. Glory worked as Eli’s assistant. They had a daughter they named Gwen, and a son, Howard, who was born healthy in 1955 even though Glory contracted non-paralytic polio in her fifth month of pregnancy.

Eli ran his solo veterinary practice for 43 years and retired in the mid 1990s.

“Patients, their owners, and all his staff loved him,” his wife said. “Everyone who knew Eli loved him.”

He loved them too, and also horses and camping, and he supported Glory when she learned the art of pressed flowers. She taught on 12 cruise ships after Eli retired and was on the staff of The Palace in Kendall when it opened, she said.

After their son Howard died at age 21, Eli started a group in 1980 called Compassionate Friends for devastated families in Miami. He and Glory chaired the group for eight years. When grieving parents couldn’t talk, Glory hugged them.

Now 89, Glory said she and Eli were true soulmates. They never argued, she said.

“He was just so wonderful a human being. I had to write about him,” Glory said. “He gave me my life and made me strong!”

If you have news for this column, please send it to Christina Mayo at christinammayo@gmail.com.

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