California Teen Honored for Helping to End Frog Dissection

Indigo Prasad won a National Award for introducing non-animal alternatives.

Posted Feb 20, 2020

I recently read an essay called "Marin teen honored for alternatives to real-frog dissection" about Indigo Prasad, a seventh-grader at Mark Day School in San Rafael, California. I was thrilled to see a wonderful example of humane education on the ground. I recognized the surname of this forward-looking and passionate student and immediately reached out to her mother, Kathleen Prasad, to see if it would be okay to interview Indigo.

Both mother and daughter agreed, and I'm pleased to offer an inspirational interview with 13-year old Indigo, who recently won a National Award and was named "Humane Student of the Year" by Animalearn for her efforts to introduce alternatives to frog dissection into her school's curriculum. Indigo also used her $1,000 in prize money to buy the “fake” frog dissection kits. 

Our interview went as follows. 

Please tell readers about yourself and how you got interested in humane education?

My name is Indigo Prasad, and I love animals and I love science. I’m 13 and a 7th grader from Mark Day School in Marin County, CA. I found out in the beginning of the school year that in the Spring we were going to do a frog dissection unit. When I found this out, I wasn’t happy about it, but I felt like I had to do it if I wanted a good science education (I want to be a doctor). This is also the same time that we had to decide on what to do for the Science Fair. Since I didn’t know much on the topic of dissection, and I wanted to find out if there was another way, it was my perfect opportunity to do my science fair project about the available alternatives.  I came into the project not knowing much about it at all, but through my research, I discovered how bad it is for the environment, how inhumane it is for the frogs and how great the virtual and synthetic alternatives are. 

Indigo Prasad
Indigo with her project.
Source: Indigo Prasad

Please tell readers about your project and how you got it off the ground?

I started by emailing a bunch of companies, including Animalearn and PETA. Animalearn responded with a bunch of resources, and they gave me the idea to apply for the Humane Student of the Year Award (which I ended up winning!). Animalearn and PETA told me about a bunch of different companies, including Rescue Critters and Syndaver, which I contacted as well.

I discovered two different software programs, one for Macs and one for PCs which I used in my project, along with the Rescue Critters model. I chose 20 human subjects and had them test each of the virtual programs and fill out a survey comparing it to their previous experiences (if any) with traditional frog dissection. Along with this, during lunch in the science classroom, I led a few students in dissecting one of the synthetic Rescue Critters frogs. During this time I was also in contact with Syndaver, but they weren’t ready to send models out yet. The Rescue Critters frog was also only a prototype. 

My results were that 95% of people thought that frog dissection alternatives are ready to replace traditional frog dissection. People liked the combination of synthetic experience together with the virtual program because it combined tactile and online learning. 

How did your teachers respond?

My science teacher was the person who gave me the initial contact of Animalearn that she found at a science conference. She also supported me through the process, and we checked in a lot about all my different ideas. Although in our class this year, students will have a choice to dissect real frogs, my teacher is allowing me to present my research to students before they choose. I am hoping that after the students read my research that they will opt-out of real frog dissection.

How did other students respond?

I was worried that people would think my topic was weird. Most of my classmates have supported me in my science project and my friends were very excited to dissect the synthetic model with me. Since the frog unit isn’t for a while, no one has made the official decision yet, but I’ve heard from several people that they will choose to go humane. My teacher says that normally three to four people opt out of the dissection, so I’m hoping this year that number is much higher and I know those of us who opt-out will have an equally good learning experience. I will be very disappointed if more students (compared to previous years) don't choose to opt-out of the real frog dissection.

Are you pleased with their responses?

I wish everyone would want to get rid of real frog dissection. 

Do you have hope that alternatives to dissection will be adopted as part of the school's curriculum?

Our school’s system is based on Mac, and the company that does the Mac program I used in my science project is not responding to my emails, so, unfortunately, we’ll be unable to use the online program this year. But I’m actively looking into other online options. Luckily I was able to purchase synthetic reusable frog models, using the grant I received from my Humane Student of the Year Award, so I am confident my school will be able to offer these synthetic models, not only this year but also in later years. 

What are some of your current projects?

I’ve just ordered all the synthetic frogs from Syndaver and Rescue Critters and they should come sometime in late March. I’m looking for another software option as well. I’m in touch with my teacher about the unit and how it’s going to work, using the synthetic models.  I’m planning to create something that gives students the research and background about why real frog dissection is harmful, and hope it will be used in future years even after I graduate from this school. 

Is there anything else you'd like to tell readers?

It’s unfortunate that my school isn’t willing to go fully humane. I'm also disappointed that my school just announced a summer camp dissection program that focuses on real frog dissection, and I am planning to speak with teachers and staff to find out why and if they'll allow me to help integrate alternatives into this summer program. 

I feel that my science project proves that dissecting real frogs is no longer needed. I think the reasons people continue to use real animals for dissection are that they: 1) don’t realize there are excellent alternatives 2) they don’t know the facts behind why it’s important to find another way 3) they are stuck in the past and afraid to change traditions. 

Saving our environment is I believe the most important issue facing our world. As scientists, we should lead the way forward in this! 

Thank you, Indigo. You are setting a wonderful example for other students to follow, and I hope numerous other students are empowered by your efforts to replace dissection and other practices with non-animal alternatives, that work just as well.

We need to remember, "The World Becomes What We Teach: Humane Education Is Key."

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