This fall, Bangor High School welcomed a sense of normalcy and a new social-emotional program

At Bangor High School in Maine, a return to campus full time has brought students a sense of normalcy—and a steady and safe environment in which to learn, grow, and be themselves.

It’s also brought them something new: the rollout of a first-of-its-kind partnership with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ Speak Truth to Power program that’s guiding an innovative social-emotional learning curriculum.

Like many schools across the country, in recent years Bangor High School has struggled to address reports of racism by students of color on the predominately white campus. Now, the school is partnering with RFK Human Rights to provide its teachers with professional training and development from the world-renowned Speak Truth to Power human rights education team and to help the entire school adopt systems and structures that cultivate an inclusive, dignity-driven learning environment.

Through this partnership, the school is taking a substantial step toward creating a more inclusive culture and school climate, using human rights education as an umbrella strategy for social-emotional learning (SEL) and addressing inclusivity in areas such as race, gender, disabilities, and food insecurity. The program is made possible through a grant from the Maine-based Tramuto Foundation.

When Bangor’s 1,150 students returned to the classroom in August, their daily schedules included a new feature: a 20-minute daily advisory period focused on SEL and teachers building relationships with students.

Next semester the school will offer two elective classes on human rights, said Adam Leach, director of guidance. Juniors and seniors can opt to study the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in depth as well as the history-making work of human rights defenders in the United States and around the world.

In the coming months, Leach said, some freshmen and sophomores will be identified as program leaders and will take part in the program’s leadership alliance, earning an opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., for an immersive human rights education experience.

Leach said there’s a palpable positive energy at Bangor among students and staff, who are eager to learn more about equality, justice, and inclusivity. “You’ve got staff that are excited to use resources. Motivated kids who are thinking about things more. We start with those who are passionate about [human rights education] and believe others will grab onto the idea,” he said.

The bottom line, he said, is that “kids are thinking about world problems more, and are showing a desire to be more vocal about them. These kids are ripe for wanting the discussion. It’s our job to give them the skills and the vocabulary to carry that through.”

For more information on the partnership, click here.