Our Voices

San Diego educators and community stakeholders collaborate to empower the next generation

On June 25-27, RFK Human Rights Speak Truth to Power (STTP) held the first of a series of Summer Institutes in San Diego, hosted in partnership with the University of San Diego Division of Extended Studies. Over the course of those three days, educators, students, and community stakeholders had the opportunity to learn more about how to leverage classroom education about, through, and for human rights. Attendees engaged in workshops, activities, and panels centered around empowering the next generation with the tools and knowledge they need to create change in their communities and advance human rights.

Commencing with a warm welcome by ​​UC San Diego Vice Chancellor Becky Pettit, the first day focused on education about human rights with Rebecca Stephens leading the participants in a Ripple of Hope story exchange. Inspired by Robert F Kennedy’s 1966 Ripple of Hope speech, participants were prompted to exchange stories about a time they witnessed or created a ripple of hope. Through the exchange, participants were able to foster deeper interpersonal connections, sparking discussions surrounding what takeaways they hoped to gain from the institute.

Starting with a discussion of the various ways in which the participants are already teaching about, through, and for human rights in their classrooms, the group joined together to brainstorm how they might take this framework even further. Lead educators Meredith Baldi and Prescott Seraydarian from George School led the first interactive workshop, detailing how documentary storytelling can be used as a tool to effectively capture the experiences of human rights defenders.

Day one closed out with a keynote speech by Eva Pacheco, executive director at Excellence and Justice in Education Academies (EJE) Academies. Eva shared her personal journey in creating EJE Academies, beginning with when she first moved to the United States from Mexico with her family. Eva learned early on that the school system was not built to support students who were learning English as a second language. Faced with the sudden cut of the bilingual program in their school, Eva took it upon herself to mobilize other parents whose children were in the same situation, and informed them of their parental rights to demand a proper education for their children. Through determination, organization, and working together, they were able to re-establish the bilingual program at their school with adequate teachers and curriculum. This led Eva to create the Excellence and Justice in Education Academies (EJE), an organization built to inform and empower families and “address the barriers faced by low-income Latino students and promote bilingual education.” During her keynote speech, Eva emphasized the value of students not only as learners but also as individuals, urging the audience to “take the risk” when they see their communities in need.

The activities continued on day two with a focus on education through human rights. Dr. Leighangela Brady, superintendent of the National School District, led a fast-paced session about how the district is using the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework for students to address real world issues through storytelling, animation, stewardship, and community engagement. Morgan Appel, Assistant Dean for Education and Community outreach for UC San Diego, followed up with a talk about existing differentiated learning strategies and their connection to human rights education. Next, in a moving Zoom call facilitated by Timothy Stiven and his students (founders of Flowers for the Future), a female student in Afghanistan read a poem called “Suffering Girl,” demonstrating the power of the international education connection in changing the lives of students here and abroad.

Rounding out the morning with a Voices of Dignity panel moderated by Jeffrey Siminoff, vice president of Workplace Dignity at RFK Human Rights, panelists Guadalupe Cardona, Timothy Stiven, and Jeff Freitas discussed workplace dignity issues faced by school faculty and staff, and ways in which key decision makers can begin to address these issues. Coming back together in the afternoon, participants took part in an interactive workshop with Nara Muniz França, Program Director of Mi Universidad, who discussed the importance of epiphany learning, a technique that builds the classroom environment and syllabus around student discovery. Following Nara’s workshop, Ethan Van Thillo, founder and director of the Media Arts Center and San Diego Latino Film Festival, shared examples of how students have used film to both document human rights issues and effect change within their communities.

Closing out the second day of the institute, Meredith and Prescott returned to continue the conversation about integrating film and human rights learning in the classroom. Participants had the opportunity to put what they had previously learned into action by creating their own film. Choosing to highlight the event’s keynote speaker, Eva, the participants gathered together during the film workshop to plan out their human rights defender documentary, interview Eva and record b-roll footage throughout the rest of institute activities. After the second day of programming had ended, attendees stayed on to watch a screening of With This Light, a documentary featuring the human rights defender Sister Maria Rosa Leggol, and a panel discussion featuring the documentary’s executive producer, Jessica Sarowitz.

Day three of the institute focused on education for human rights, starting with the final installment of the film workshop. Participants premiered the films they’d worked on and reflected on how film can be used to inspire action and create change. Stepping out of the “classroom,” the participants then took a tour of the Urban Discovery school, learning how innovations in public schools through design thinking and community engagement can improve the student experience.

Meeting back at the UC San Diego campus, RFK Human Rights Youth Engagement Program Associate Allison Gilmore walked the participants through more examples of student engagement opportunities and ideas for community action. She then opened a discussion about new ideas for how educators can integrate human rights education into the classroom and community, putting all the activities of the weekend back into the lens of education about, through, and for human rights.

To close out the three days, founders of Fundación Tú más Yo, Jose Antonio Diaz and Alejandro Martinez, together with the Director of AVANTE, Dahlia Rodriguez, led a presentation detailing the community engagement projects they started in Tijuana and shared with the audience the ways in which they have worked within various communities to bring about positive change.

One outcome of the institute is a Human Rights Education Fundamentals course with UCSD that will provide users with access to the kind of training we offered at the summer institute.

For more resources and materials, reach out to the Speak Truth to Power team at [email protected]. Learn more about our work and upcoming events here.