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The PS 1 Human Rights Club

In October 2018, my colleague, Koreen Valtierra, and I wrote a grant application to start a Human Rights After School Club at PS 1.  This grant was made available to our school from the NYC Department of Education and was called, "Identity Based Student Club Funding."   I had initially applied for this grant for a club focused on leadership and community service the previous June but I did not receive the funding.

All Hands In

When we collaborated on the grant application, we initially struggled to find a focus for the club that would be identity-based but would also be appropriate for 4th and 5th graders and correspond with the District 15 Equity Initiative.  We chose to focus on Human Rights using a free curriculum from Amnesty International called, "Our World, Our Rights."  This curriculum teaches students what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is and how it relates to the children of the world.  We were awarded the grant for two school years in a row!  During the 2018-2019 school year, we met with the students once a week between February and May.  There was 1 student from each 4th and 5th grade class.  The students were nominated by their teachers for their interests in social justice, traveling and civics.  We mainly used the curriculum from Amnesty International but we diverted when students wanted to respond to the treatment of migrant children at the US Southern Border.  During the 2019-2020 school year, we began a month earlier but our club work was cut off in March due to the transition to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Prior to school closing, we were able to combine my new knowledge from Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms on Global Competencies and The Sustainable Development Goals with the curriculum from Amnesty International.  Although, we are unsure of what funding and school will look like during future school years, I do hope to find a way to continue providing this after school experience for our 4th and 5th graders.  Below, you will find some examples of the work our students completed in this club across the last two years!   Please visit my blog  and the SDG page to learn more about the work we engaged in with the students in the Human Rights Club.   

Taking Action:  Writing & Speaking about the Treatment of Migrants at the U.S. Southern Border

In Spring 2019, we began investigating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child with the students in the Human Rights Club.  The Convention provides children with over 40 rights.  It says every child has the right to live and to grow up, to be protected from harm, danger and bad treatment, to enjoy family life, health care and education, to be treated fairly and to have their own ideas listened to.  After investigating the rights in small groups, the students brought up what they were hearing on the news about children being separated from their families at the southern U.S. border.  It was not our initial intention to address this topic, but if the purpose of our club was to empower students, we wanted to take our cues from the students. 

They had questions so we did some research on this topic with the students by reading about family separation.  We used literature and videos to learn about who refugees are and why they might choose to leave their country.  We read "Four Feet, Two Sandals" by Karen Lynn Williams, which is the story of girls in a Refugee camp in Pakistan after fleeing Afghanistan.  We watched several videos from UNICEF called, "Unfairy Tales" to learn more about the experience of being a migrant or a refugee.  We spoke with a refugee named Varty over Skype.  Varty was a refugee from Syria who was living in Armenia.  She described what her journey to Armenia from Syria was like and took questions from the students. We connected with Varty through an organization called Natakallam.  Natakallam connects refugees with classrooms to discuss the refugee experience and to help teach new languages.  After all of this research, the students decided they wanted to take action!

UnFairy Tale Videos from UNICEF

The students decided to write persuasive letters to their Congressional Representatives or make phone calls to their local offices in an effort to try to stop family separation happening at the US southern border and to ask the federal government to take more supportive actions of refugees worldwide.  We helped the students by providing sentence frames, word banks and conferred with them as they wrote their letters.  We also started a grid on FlipGrid so that the students who were choosing to call their Congressional Representatives could practice sharing their ideas.  We mailed the student letters to Senator Charles Schumer, Senator Kristen Gillibrand and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez.  We also called their local offices.  The students did not get to speak to their actual representatives but the supporting staff that took the student calls were really patient and excited to hear from the students.  Our students made such a strong impression that the supporting staff from Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez contacted City Councilman Carlos Menchaca's office and invited our students to read their letters at a Community Board 7 meeting.  Only two of our students were able to attend the meeting but it was an empowering moment for our students.  Our students come from a community of immigrants so even though the US Southern is far away, they modeled the power that comes from taking local action on a global issue.  In the gallery blow, you can view some of the student letters and some media from the community board meeting.  Please double click the images to see the letters in full screen.

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