Hands-on human rights


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A group of 40 middle-schoolers spoke out on Tuesday about what news stories they find most important, giving priority to hard news about domestic events, politics, and science.

Unfazed by catchy slogans and brightly colored pictures, the students ranked advertisements last.

“I thought that was rather telling of the group,” said Nick Stuber, a UI Center for Human Rights staff member who led the workshop.

Stuber’s exercise was one of 16 workshops held for 300 students from eastern Iowa and western Illinois during the 13th-annual International Day human-rights event, cosponsored by the UI, at the Coralville Marriott Hotel & Conference Center.

Workshops at this year’s gathering — which cost $10,000 and was also sponsored by the Stanley Foundation — focused on interpreting media information and media access in other countries.

Of the 16 sessions, 14 were taught by UI faculty, staff, or students.

Event coordinators aimed to help the students understand which information to trust in a digital age filled with faulty facts, said UI Center for Human Rights coordinator Greg Hamot, who helped plan the event.

“There’s a tidal wave of information that hits them,” he said, and he hopes the workshops help students learn more about human rights and morality. “To understand why people do what they do, you have to understand how much information is available to them.”

Within 20 minutes of opening registration last spring, teachers filled the 300 available spots, Hamot said.

“I have to say that [the event] is definitely exceeding my expectations,” said Lindsay Hobson, a teacher from Roosevelt Middle School in Cedar Rapids.

She said her students enjoyed the “Songs from the Holocaust” session, which included a presentation about music performed in the ghettos of Poland during World War II.

Her students liked the topic because it’s not normally discussed in school, she said.

Students from McKinley Middle School, also in Cedar Rapids, have attended International Day for the past five years, said teacher Barb Rhame.

McKinley eighth-grader Caroline Rossberger said she enjoyed a role-playing activity in the presentation called “The Rights of Refugees.”

At the workshop students were split into groups representing border control, refugees, and onlookers.

“You just got to act like you were one of the refugees from Africa,” she said.

McKinley students who attended last year’s event did projects about the information they learned after the event, Rhame said, and, “They were some of the most meaningful projects I’ve ever had students complete.”

From Iowa City, several sixth-graders from Longellow and Hoover attended the event.

“It’s really an honor to go every year; we’ve been going for 12 years,” said Sharon Thomas, a teacher for the extended learning program at Hoover and Longfellow.

Teresa Garringer, a UI College of Education staff member who helped coordinate the event, said she overheard students discussing what they learned on their way to lunch and noted, “It’s their right to know and be informed.”

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