The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child put forth that one primary purpose of schools is to develop respect for human rights and the fundamental freedoms that all children should enjoy. They noted that to truly understand and promote human rights, one has to live them out in relation to others.
New York City has taken this directive seriously and to heart by creating its School for Human Rights, a combined middle and high school academy that is built around this concept. It is one of nearly 150 small public schools opened through special initiatives in the last three years by New York City. Having opened its doors in September 2004 in the 2005-2006 year, the School of Human Rights had over 180 students.
Located in Brooklyn, the School is rare, even for the NYC schools. Its core values are dignity, respect and responsibility, which is the driving force behind its curriculum. How the students learn and the teachers teach, how they treat one another, and the types of adults the New York City schools hope the students become. Human rights are demonstrated to students by how the school meets the educational needs of each and every student; in its practices, such as discipline with dignity; examples given in class, questions raised by teachers, the active discussions, critical thinking and reflection that are part of the project-based coursework; and even in the enriching field trips.
This school is the only one in New York City that integrates an academic and social skills-based curriculum. It even immerses its theme into its extracurricular activities, such as film festivals and workshops with human rights defenders.
The school challenges the New York City students to become compassionate and socially engaged young adults, who are committed to equality, dignity and social consciousness. Amnesty International USA, Human Rights Education Association, and New Visions for Public Schools, who have partnered with the schools in New York City and made this curriculum possible, hope to see many of these New York City students carry over what they learn into their adult lives, as well as to enter social justice careers.
The NYC schools based the curriculum on UNICEF’s framework to:
o Recognize the rights of every child;
o See the whole child in a broad context, in the home environment as well as at school;
o Be child centered, ensuring the psychological and social well being of each child;
o Be gender sensitive and girl friendly by eliminating stereotypes and constraints to education, while promoting achievement;
o Promote quality learning outcomes;
o Base education on each child’s unique identity, previous school experience, community, and family;
o Promote NYC schools’ student rights and responsibilities within the school environment, including ensuring inclusion, respect and equality of opportunity for each child;
o Enhance New York City schools’ teacher capacity, morale, commitment and status, and
o Be family focused.
To ensure the School teachers have the resources and professional development they need, the Human Rights Education Association provides this support to the New York City schools. Teachers have found that the most difficult task is presenting the curriculum in a meaningful and empowering manner, making human rights more than an abstract concept.
The School of Human Rights is unique and will empower its students beyond what is found in other public schools.