International Day offers middle schoolers new perspectives

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Monday, November 24, 2014
Jodeane Cancilla holds a Swainson’s and describes how the bird lost its wing after a collision with a car.
Jodeane Cancilla holds a Swainson’s hawk and describes how the bird lost its wing after a collision with a car. Photo by Mei-Ling Shaw WIlliams.

Jodeane Cancilla, director of the Macbride Raptor Project, holds Zephyr, a Swainson’s hawk on her gloved hand and tells a room full of middle school students how the bird lost its right wing after a collision with a car.

Down the hall, Andy Joseph, the Iowa State apiarist, talks about how honey bees are a key part of Iowa’s environment. He says there are about 4,500 small scale and urban beekeepers in the state.

Upstairs, another room full of students practices sorting which materials are good for a compost pile—like shredded newspapers, coffee grounds, and vegetable scrap —and which are not—tin cans, plastic, and meat, for example.

More than 300 middle school students, primarily from Eastern Iowa, were in Coralville Tuesday, Nov. 18, to participate in the 18thannual University of Iowa International Day for Human Rights. This hands-on, interactive event focuses on a different theme each year, and is coordinated by the University of Iowa College of Education and the UI Center for Human Rights. This year students learned about “The Human Right to a Clean Environment.”

Event co-coordinator Greg Hamot, says exposing students to ideas that might not otherwise fit into their curricula is a main point of International Day.

“We hope to get students to see themselves as not just citizens of their town, or county, or state, or even nation, but as citizens of the whole world, because what they do has an impact somewhere else,” says Hamot, a professor in the UI College of Education and associate director of the UI Center for Human Rights in the UI College of Law.

Featured activities included a keynote address from Kevin Adair, who has traveled the world promoting economic and environmental sustainability through beneficial tourism and implementing sustainable cooking systems in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Students also chose two from among several breakout sessions led by university and community leaders, including the sessions on Iowa’s birds of prey, beekeeping, and composting. Other topics included cleaning up oil spills, saving trees, and nuclear power.

At the end of the day, Ted Neal, clinical instructor of Science Education at the UI College of Education, gave students a live demonstration of how scientists use drones and weather balloons to determine the health of our environment.

He told the crowd that he hoped they’d be inspired to imagine their own futures in the science fields.

“I know that some of you have been given the misinformation that engineering is really hard, that science and math are really hard, and you think you can’t do it,” he says. “That’s wrong. We need our best and brightest to go into these fields.”

Olivia Hawkins, a 14-year-old eighth grader at Franklin Middle School in Cedar Rapids, says the day opened her eyes to new possibilities.

“I’ve always wanted to help people, and now I’m thinking that helping the environment is a good way to do that," she says.

Angie Curtis has taught at Muscatine (Iowa) High School for only a year, coming here from Illinois. She says attending International Day highlighted for her the special opportunities Iowa’s students have thanks to the UI.

“I can’t believe how much more Iowa kids are exposed to in terms of arts and different parts of the world,” she says. “They have so many cultural opportunities because of the university.”

International Day is supported by The Stanley Foundation. Jill Goldesberry, a program officer there, says the event reaches students at a key point in their lives.

“Students this age are interested in topics like human rights,” she says. “At an event like this, we can get them thinking about the fact that we take a lot of things for granted.”