Success Stories in Middle Schools
In middle schools, human rights education encourages students to value diversity and seek fairness. Participating in service for the school or community helps to reinforce the principles taught in the classroom, and encourages students to support human rights in their daily lives. The perspectives of ELL students from a St. Paul middle school demonstrate the empowering effects of human rights education. After spending a year studying and educating others about human rights, one student said, “It is great to teach kids how to understand other cultures. It is the best thing to teach kids about their own culture too.” Another expressed this same sense of pride, saying, “I’m happy that I can be a good model to the third grade and some day I want to help the community in my neighborhood.” Below are examples of how middle school teachers have integrated human rights into their teaching.
English Language Learners:
ELL students at Washington Technology Magnet Middle School in St. Paul hosted a "local heroes series" in their classroom, inviting community leaders and activists such as Hmong activist and storyteller Tou Ger Xiong and Minnesota State Senator Mee Moua. Many of the guest speakers connected to students through their similar backgrounds of coming to the U.S. as immigrants and learning English as a second or third language. The students prepared interview questions in advance, and the local heroes answered students' questions and shared stories about their personal and professional lives.
According to the teacher, teaching human rights to ELL students reveals their unique perspectives. “Some of these activities don’t go at all the way they’re supposed to,” she explains, “because they’re based on what American kids do.” For example, she taught a lesson about global distribution of wealth, giving groups different amounts of candy to represent unequal levels of wealth among countries. Unlike typical American students, most of the ELL students came from cultures that emphasized community welfare. As a result, the students felt that the rich countries should share their candy with the poor countries, a response the teacher did not expect.
Centennial Middle School in Boulder, Colorado recently held a Human Rights essay contest. The Advocates for Human Rights would like to congratulate the winner, Trevor Laugen, on his spectacular essay. Click here to read Trevor's essay.
Human Rights in the United States:
Learning about the extent to which human rights are fulfilled in the United States is key to understanding human rights in a local and global context. In Social Studies classes at a middle school in downtown Minneapolis, students investigate civil and human rights in the context of history, with topics including Brown vs. the Board of Education (1954) and the U.S. Constitution. In Language Arts, students in grades 7-9 read novels based on themes such as homelessness and racial prejudice.
At an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (IBMYP) School in Golden Valley, MN, eighth graders participated in an interdisciplinary unit about fascism, the Holocaust, and human rights. In Humanities, they studied the historical events that led up to WWII. In Math and Science, they learned about half-life and the atomic bomb. In Literature, they read The Diary of Anne Frank. ELL students at Washington Technology Magnet Middle School also learned about Anne Frank in the context of human rights.
At a Golden Valley, MN, Middle School, teachers and students collaborated with a local playwright to create, rehearse, and perform an interactive play about refugees called “A Walk in Their Shoes.” Students in the International Baccalaureate Program created a performance for their fellow students, their parents, and other community members based on ELL students’ stories about coming to the US. The play was interactive: the audience moved through a sequence of rooms that each represented a different part of the refugee journey. According to one teacher, the play “really touched me. The kids looked at me and were shocked that their tough teacher was actually crying. It was so real.”
Service helps students to understand human rights in the context of their immediate community, and empowers them to promote human rights. At a school in downtown Minneapolis, human rights units conclude with students taking action through class activities such as organizing fundraisers and food drives for local food shelves.
Funded by a grant from the Carolyn Foundation, The Advocates for Human Rights paired with both Robbinsdale Middle School and Hmong International Academy for human rights service-learning projects. Students from Robbinsdale Middle School spent the day defining human rights, discussing current human rights issues, and arguing their position on these issues. See a brief video of the students' work here.
In addition, some of these students chose to conduct research on a human rights topic they found particularly interesting. Students discuss their topics and findings here.
The service-learning project at Hmong International Academy was focused on racism in today's society. Middle school students developed a better understanding of the role racism plays in everyday life through interviews that were developed for students and school staff. Students also created posters and skits which advocated for a change. See a video of students' work here.