Our Voices

Human rights education in advisories: How small group learning can foster big change

When schools began focusing on building stronger relationships and school communities in the 1990s, one outcome was advisories: structured time for teachers to meet with a small group of students to teach Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) strategies and foster a richer sense of school culture.

Advisory groups may meet briefly each day, or for longer periods two to three times a week to dive into new skills and topics.

Grounded by the practice of education through human rights, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights seeks to support educators in creating an effective and engaging advisory space that:

  • Weaves learning about SEL competencies with putting them into empowered action through human rights education

  • Intentionally sets a shared vision for the school and serves as a key place to build a school culture of empathy, dignity, and empowered action

  • Creates a transformative environment where students feel invited into the community, and safe to seek advice, share feelings, challenges, and insights

At Bucyrus High School, in Bucyrus, Ohio, we worked with teachers to bring the stories of human rights defenders into the advisory period. Over the course of a term, the students learned about a defender, how the defender took action, and the human rights issues they addressed. At the end of the year, students explored how they could become human rights defenders in their school and community.

The advisory program at one of our partner schools, the Business Artivism Management (BAM!) Academy in Los Angeles, provides another example of how advisory can be used to teach about human rights through an inclusive practice, inspiring students to take informed action for human rights.

Ms. Guadalupe Cardona, BAM!’s Lead Teacher and a STTP Lead Educator, designed the academy’s project-based advisory period, which meets twice per week for 41 minutes. In the fall, students learned about human rights and various human rights defenders, with a special focus on local issues. In the spring, these business academy students will put what they have learned into practice by developing a sustainable business plan that meets the triple bottom line: care for the planet, people, and profit.

This project-based approach to advisory gives all students and teachers a shared human rights vocabulary, solidifies and clarifies the school vision, builds empathy, and empowers students to put SEL competencies into action. It also provides structure for advisory as students work toward a shared goal.

We asked Cardona to provide some insights into the current advisory and its future.

1) How did you incorporate human rights and social justice into advisory? This year’s theme has been researching and presenting on Human Rights Defenders. We have called the project IN DEFENSE OF HUMAN RIGHTS. Students learn slowly about what human rights are, the history, and who is working toward defending those rights.

2) How did your students respond? Students really responded positively. They especially were motivated by learning about those who are fighting to bring justice to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. In addition, different advisory groups led actions to help our school community. For example, one advisory group researched community gardening and helped with our garden, one engaged in a special BAM! campus beautification project, and one is researching and speaking truth to language justice.

3) Where do you want to take your advisory programming in the future? We are going to transition to learning how to write BAM! Business Plans with help from RFK regarding plans that consider the triple bottom line. I’m excited for the summer training, so that teachers are able to help me more in terms of content and ideas.

Project-based learning advisories that integrate SEL competencies and human rights education can be tailored to meet the needs and vision of individual schools; they are powerful, innovative models for building strong relationships and creating meaningful change.

To learn more about the work at BAM! and other advisory programming, please email Rebecca Stephens at [email protected].