Our Voices

Centering classroom dialogue on common truths through human rights education

  • By
  • Jonathan Coulombe

Article written by Jonathan Coulombe, Upper School Dean of Students at the King School in Stamford, CT.

Several years ago, we struggled to engage our student body at King School around issues of importance in their world. Too often we, as adults, were designing the conversations and failed to gain traction with helping students to discuss community, national, or global issues of concern.

The summer of 2020 provided an important opportunity for our school community to undergo some important changes. After the murder of George Floyd, our students wanted to talk about their concerns. What we needed was a way to thoughtfully and productively leverage their interest so we could grow as a community.

RFK Human Rights and the STTP team soon became an invaluable resource. By framing programming through the lens of human rights, we were able to strip away much of the divisive political rhetoric and engage students about the common truths they shared. We identified a cohort of student leaders who wanted to design programming, and STTP trained those students: Not by lecturing them about facilitation or activism but by listening to them and brainstorming about what would work for our particular community.

Two years later, we have a culture of activism led by students who see themselves as stakeholders in this work with voices that are mighty, effective, and valued. We have transitioned this programming from being something extra jammed in whenever possible, to a scheduled academic class that operates as a practicum where students learn and plan together about the best ways to engage the entire student body. We will continue partnering with RFK Human Rights and the STTP team to empower our students to be the type of engaged citizens we strive to graduate from King.