Middle school students gather at 17th annual International Day

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

College of Education doctoral student giving presentation showing slides of people in Guatemala.

College of Education doctoral student Lauren Levy shares her experiences from her work in Guatemala. Photo by Mei-Ling Shaw Williams.

Oelwin Middle School eighth grader Eden Barker says she was fascinated to hear U.S. veteran Bruce Clark discuss how a local homeless shelter helped him get back on his feet.

Barker was among approximately 300 middle school students from Iowa and Illinois gathered Nov. 19 for the 17th annual International Day for Human Rights, a unique conference-style opportunity for middle school students to focus on a particular aspect of human rights.

This year’s event focused on “The Human Right to an Adequate Standard of Living.” The keynote, presented by a panel from the Iowa City Shelter House, included Clark and William Ming Liu, president-elect of the shelter board of directors and a professor of counseling psychology.

The College of Education’s Counseling Psychology program is the primary provider of mental health services at the Shelter House.

“International Day is an important opportunity to highlight the singular importance of safe, clean, and stable housing and how this essential need serves as the foundation for healthy personal and intellectual development and growth,” Liu says.

In addition to the keynote, students participated in a large group session exploring “Health and Wealth Around the World” in which students learned to use an interactive map and play a card game in small groups to test their knowledge about global conditions. Students also participated in small group breakout sessions with topics ranging from Operation Smile to violence against women in Guatemala.

Barker attended a session called “Champions for Human Rights” in which students learned about opportunities to get involved in campaigns such as UNICEF, Hike to Help Refugees, Nothing but Nets, and Shot @ Life to help support human rights and global health concerns.

College of Education professor and event co-coordinator Gregory Hamot says International Day gives students an opportunity to see the world in new ways and experience topics that may not be covered in standard classroom curricula.

“By introducing them to issues, problems, and trends that involve human rights globally, our students get an idea that the world is very different than Iowa,” he says.

International Day is hosted annually by the University of Iowa College of Education in cooperation with the Stanley Foundation. Speakers and presenters come from several UI departments as well as community organizations. For more information, visit here.

Stanley foundation Program Officer for Community Partnerships Jill Goldesberry says International Day is important because middle school students care about human rights.

“Middle school students are at a stage where they are still creative and haven’t figured out what they want to do with their life; this helps,” she says.