More than 100-educators from across the eight counties of Western New York gathered at the Teaching to Change the World Conference held at Erie One Boces in West Seneca. It was presented by The Summer Institute for Human Rights of Buffalo. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says educators learned about human rights.
“All students can self-identify as a human rights defender in their home, in their community, in their schools and beyond that,” said John Heffernan, executive director at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights.
Heffernan is internationally-known for his leadership in human rights. He delivered the key note address at the conference.
“What we try to do at “Speak Truth to Power” in telling these stories of these people who have taken considerable risks. Many of them have suffered horrific oppression, torture, you name it – but they have come out on the other end and it’s a message of hope because what they are is they’re resisters, they’ve persevere against this type of hate and I think the more that we can do to convey that to our young people by building a citizenry,” remarked Heffernan.
“What would be your message to the President right now,” Buckley questioned. “Wow! Take me off record,” laughed Heffernan. “You know I would hope my message would be a positive one. That there are many, many good people out there and there is a world that needs to be acknowledge by those who are reluctant to accept diversity, so my message to the President would be to perhaps a little more open-minded to people that don’t look like him or don’t sound like him or don’t act like him and that in fact that we can all work together – we’ve seen it before.”
Educators who attended learned about how to confront hatred, discrimination and discussed of freedom of expression. They came to learn how to help the next generation become concerned citizens and activists.
“Students are children. Children are innocent and I think, as adults, we forget that,’ declared Michael Baronisch, associate director of Summer Institute of Human Rights in Buffalo.
The teachers attended different break-out session on various human rights topics, including the situation in Syria.
“It is so important to reach out, especially those teachers – teachers who don’t necessarily have the connection to different cultures in their classrooms, so we wanted to first, advertise to these rural districts, but really show them it doesn’t matter what kind of school setting you teach in – these are all issues that affect every single school building in some fashion,” explained Baronisch.
“This conference is giving me first of all validation in what I do,” commented Betty Haynes, social studies teacher at Cleveland Hill Middle School in Cheektowaga.
Haynes works to teach history and other important topics in a very diverse school community.
“This is a really tricky time to teach certain aspects of history, like immigration with what’s happening on the border in Texas. But I think there is always a way that we can do it where we focus on the people and their stories and remove the politics from it – that we are talking about real people,” responded Haynes.
“But I think this lends itself to social studies, you have to study the past,” replied Becky Nahrebeski, global teacher at Hamburg High School.
Nahrebeski attended the training session in hopes of refreshing her teaching skills.
“Really to get my fire burning again. Every once in a while I need to step out of the classroom and be with other adults who teach what I teach and kind of get that fire stoked. Also, in the world of STEM and STEAM right now, it truly does validate the importance of social studies,” Nahrebeski explained.
“So in my classroom we really focus on building community,” said Mandy Manning.
Manning traveled to Western New York from Spokane, Washington. She is the 2018 National Teacher of the Year.
Manning specializes in teaching all immigrant and refugee students. She said it is distrusting to watch Trump's Administration's immigration stance for migrants of Mexico attempting to cross the U.S. border.
“We need to have empathy what they are leaving behind because clearly they wouldn’t make that how many thousand-miles trek on foot if whatever they were leaving wasn’t terrible,” Manning described.
Manning launched a campaign on Thanksgiving called ‘Teachers Against Child Detention’. She wants to empower thousands of teachers across the country in hopes of sending President Trump a unified voice not to punish migrant children.
“Because regardless of what we feel about adults in the situation, children should never be punished for things that are outside of their control and there are 13,000 kids being detained across our nation,” Manning noted.