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

BACKGROUND

In this relatively young democracy, there is heightened awareness of the need to nurture young people in the skills they will need to be empowered, informed citizens. School districts are encouraged, and supported, to include principles of Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Citizenship at all grade levels.

The geo-political situation of the Republic of Georgia highlights the sense of urgency that drives many educators. In 2008 the Russian military occupied two of the eastern Georgian provinces, South Ossetia and Abhkazia, both of which remain under Russian control.

INTRODUCING PRINCIPLES OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE SDGs

In November, 2016, representatives from the Tbilisi City Council and Educational Administrators plus a group of Georgian high school students traveled to Chestnut Hill College, located in Philadelphia, to attend a professional development training program focusing on early childhood education. The government of the Republic of Georgia had recently doubled the budget for elementary and pre-school education, and the administrators were interested in learning about American approaches to early childhood education.  As part of the conference, Words Into Deeds organized workshops that introduced key Human Rights documents followed by discussions designed to help students design and implement community outreach projects in their schools.  Student Leadership Conference on Development.  Between sessions were tours of nearby historic sites and a day trip to Washington, D.C.  Members of the group requested a visit to the King of Prussia Mall.

Georgian high school students learning about the ways in which the UN Sustainable Development Goals provide opportunities for them to become involved in their communities.

Georgian high school students learning about the ways in which the UN Sustainable Development Goals provide opportunities for them to become involved in their communities.

Georgian elementary school teachers participating in workshops designed to help them introduce human rights concepts and projects in their classrooms.

Georgian elementary school teachers participating in workshops designed to help them introduce Human Rights concepts and projects in their classrooms.

VISITING TBILISI

The following June I was invited to present separate Words Into Deeds workshops for teachers and high school students in the capital city, Tbilisi. These were sponsored by a Georgian NPO, Multinational Georgia for Strengthening Democratic Values, and two-days were devoted to interactive workshops for each group, with 13 teachers and school administrators and 22 students participating.

Teachers’ workshops began with development of essential questions, followed by the study of key documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention of the Rights of Children, and the Georgian Constitution. Linking these to specific targets was done by examination of the Sustainable Development Goals, exploring the inter-connectedness among them and the many educational resources available on line. The afternoon focused on pedagogical practices, classroom activities that bring together students and issue-specific experts, promoting interdisciplinary teams, and assessment strategies. Applications suitable for students ranging from kindergarten through high school were identified.

Teachers shown during a workshop on using “wall words” to develop students’ language skills around social justice and human rights issues.

Workshop on using “wall words” to develop students’ language skills around social justice and human rights issues.

The second day began with proactive approaches to addressing prejudices and promoting respect, using the metaphor of a Ladder of Prejudice. The teachers then designed a Words Into Deeds program suitable for their classrooms, using as a theme, understanding and protecting the rights of people living with disabilities. This included defining objectives, examining primary source documents and resources, and outlining strategies to help students design then implement outreach projects, always returning to the essential questions and key documents.

Students’ workshops followed a similar agenda, with the first day introducing principles and practices related to the UDHR and SDGs. Exercises were designed to provide greater emphasis on practical applications and skills needed to understand the many challenges, both physical and emotional, faced by persons with special needs. This also included explorations of biases and prejudices, using the Ladder of Prejudice as a framework.

Students learning about the guarantees provided in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Most did not have laptop computers, so used their cell phones to open this and other key documents.

Students learning about the guarantees provided in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Most did not have laptop computers, so used their cell phones to open this and other key documents.

The second day included presentations on human reproduction and development as related to way to identify and avoid practices and situations that might be harmful especially during prenatal and infant stages. The workshop concluded with students suggesting informed outreach actions they might take to improve the lives of these individuals and groups.

Students also completed the Ladder of Prejudice exercise.

Students after a workshop based on The Ladder of Prejudice: From Name Calling to Genocide.

At the conclusion of the teachers’ and students’ workshops, each participant was awarded a Certificate of Achievement accompanied by a celebration.

Teachers holding their diplomas for having “completed training to educate and empower youth to become informed, active Global Citizens who are dedicated to improving the lives of others in their community and globally.”

Teachers holding  diplomas for having “completed training to educate and empower youth to become informed, active Global Citizens who are dedicated to improving the lives of others in their community and globally.”