No one is born being a citizen. You have to be taught what it means. Sonia Sotomayor
Do you want to know who you are?
Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.

Thomas Jefferson

Working individually with teachers to help them design projects applicable to their students’ grade level and interests. Photo by Brenna Fitzgerald.

The International Studies Summer Institute is an annual professional development event that provides New York State K-12 teachers with authoritative content, tools, and pedagogical strategies for engaging students in local and global Human Rights issues. It is co-organized by Cornell University’s Southeast Asia Program and the South Asia Consortium, which includes the South Asia Program at Cornell and the South Asia Center at Syracuse.

Thirty teachers from Upstate New York participated in the conference, which focused on Refugees in a Global Context: Teaching Through Historical Lessons & Contemporary Issues. Guest speakers discussed the many factors related to displacements of human populations, and the destabilizing effects that these have on families and especially children.

Using the Words Into Deeds model for designing informed action projects, teachers learned additional ways to help their students learn empathy and cultural sensitivity, and become engaged in community activism. These include classroom discussions of documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and inviting informed guests into classes to share their experiences. For this topic, guests would likely include refugees who brought first-hand experiences with issues such as cultural isolation, difficulty in adapting their skills to available job opportunities, adapting to local educational expectations, and often being stigmatized by negative stereotype.  During workshops, teachers explored ways their classroom exercises could incorporate these issues and inspire students to then develop outreach service projects.

It was encouraging that so many dedicated educators are committed to deepening their understanding of refugee populations, both world-wide and locally, and are willing to find ways in which their schools can acknowledge and address the crisis through student action and empowerment.