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March 29, 2021

Empowering Students During the Pandemic and Rekindling with Kindred Spirits 2021

It’s stunning to realize that it’s been a year since our last post. What a year. Read about our plans to relaunch our blog and community here.

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Bringing Back Our Blog

It’s stunning to realize that it’s been a year since our last post. What a year. There’s so much rising to the surface—the need more than ever to bring human rights and current events into the classroom, to meet the needs and requests of students on these topics, and the desire for engagement/connection with one another and our Kindred Spirits community.

We’re excited to look ahead and kick-start our blog series again. We also feel the need to look back and consider the implications of this past year and what it means for us and our students as we take those next steps to move forward.

From Tricia:

Last year, when schools were shut down abruptly, with remote learning taking over, my colleagues and I made the decision to cut short our human rights campaign unit. We made the difficult decision for a number of reasons, both logistical and emotional, to take our students in a different direction for the rest of the school year.

Now, nearly a year later, we are looking to kick off this campaign work once again with a new set of students who have experienced a year like no other. We have been spending a lot of time thinking about ways to approach this work with students this school year taking into account that the world has changed in so many ways. Recognizing this, we searched online for resources that would enable students to connect this past year to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

We were not disappointed. When we first stumbled upon the United Nations video Nations United: Urgent Solutions for Urgent Times, we were blown away.

Finding this resource opened up the possibility of framing a social action/human rights unit through the lens of COVID-19. We know that students will connect with how the video captures the recent events of this year, good and bad. We know that students will see and understand the connections between the UDHR and the sustainable development goals (SGDs). Most important, we also know that what will resonate most with students is the emphasis on hope, and the message about our ability as humankind to make important changes if we have the will.

The online resources that follow make the connection to SDGs and COVID-19 and make clear why we must have the will to work for and enact change to achieve the SDGs. For each goal, there is an infographic that shows how significant issues related to the SDGs were crucial even before COVID-19 and how the pandemic has exacerbated these issues. Additionally there are videos to further explain the goal; background task sheets titled “Why It Matters”; and links to facts and figures, the target to achieve the goals, and resources for more information. The dynamic nature of the site makes it super student friendly, and I can’t wait to see how my students interact with all the resources.

Take Action for the Sustainable Development Goals

From Jess:

In this convergence of pandemic-related issues and resounding, necessary calls for social and racial justice, technology has played a profoundly vital role in our lives. From Zoom-based enrichment, to social media campaigns calling for a more inclusive approach to curriculum, to remote instruction, these times have largely been experienced and expressed online. To ignore the role of technology in both good and detrimental changes in our society is to bury one’s head in the proverbial sand. Let’s focus on the good—including some of the following online resources.

Research and experience have shown that mental health and inclusion are inextricably connected. When one is reflected truthfully and in positive ways in the history and literature students are being taught, their self-views and worldviews improve. Given that the pandemic continues to take such a toll on the mental well-being of our nation’s youth, providing reflective texts and opportunities for healthy discourse in class are two ways to affect nuanced well-being in our students.

mental health blocks kindred spirits

A wonderful starting place for how to do both can be found at Learning for Justice, formerly known as Teaching Tolerance. An excellent Instagram source promoting tips about how to dismantle inequities is Restoring Racial Justice (@restoringracialjustice). Of course, we highly recommend the incredible collection of anti-racism resources right here on Share My Lesson. If you are excited about exploring organizations that focus on racial justice, the Kellogg Foundation has an excellent racial equity resource guide to help you create a set of resources tailored to your classroom or organization’s needs.

From my work and view of the nonprofit sector, there are enormous efforts underway to both address equity issues in education and the collective mental health of our youth. Empowering young people with the tools and skills to advocate for the issues they want to address and positively impact is one way to boost student self-confidence.

The Education & Youth Empowerment division of Creative Visions, which I direct, has a free standards-aligned online curriculum designed to do just that. Fun fact: Tricia is one of the original writers of the curriculum! Learn more about it in our Share My Lesson webinar. We also provide a youth portal and youth programming to help amplify the creative advocacy of students and to shine a light on opportunities to take action and to connect globally with other students.

The recently launched Planet Classroom Network “... is by youth for youth. Young people from around the world play[ed] a significant role in conceptualizing, creating and producing the network’s vision and programming.” It’s a wonderful resource for creative, socially conscious impact media.

Moving forward in 2021, we must understand that connection to one another, to loved ones and to community is vital for our youth. I’m honored to serve on the advisory board of a nonprofit that successfully connects youth in acts of service virtually and directly when times are safe. Project Giving Kids (PGK)  provides technology that connects kids, teens and families to high-quality, age-appropriate volunteer activities with its network of nonprofit partners across the country. PGK is hosting a series of Give Back Hours and Create the Change Weeks in April. Be sure to sign up for your free account and to explore options for your community.

These are just several examples of the topics and resources that have been rising to our collective surface as 2021 gets underway. In fact, through our work with Rock Your World, we are looking forward to creating space to take some deeper dives into these topics. We are seeking feedback from educators to best inform our upcoming series of professional development/roundtable opportunities. Please take a minute or two (we promise that’s all it takes!) to complete our summer opportunity survey. And, we’d love to know what’s rising to the surface in your classrooms and professional lives; let us know in the comments section below!

About the Authors

Tricia Baldes earned a master’s in English from Lehman College and has been a middle level educator since 2001. Her passion for human rights education has led to her writing curriculum and consulting with nonprofit organizations like Creative Visions, Speak Truth to Power and KidsRights. She co-authored the Rock Your World curriculum and currently works with the team as a program coordinator. In addition to presenting at national conferences for NCTE and ACSD, Baldes has led various teacher trainings and programs for students. She teaches eighth-grade English in Westchester County, N.Y.

Jess Burnquist earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Arizona State University. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Time.com, NPR.org, and various online and print journals. She is a recipient of the Joan Frazier Memorial Award for the Arts at ASU and has been honored with a Sylvan Silver Apple Award. She taught high school English, creative writing and AP Literature in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area for more than a decade and is now the director of Education and Youth Empowerment at Creative Visions Foundation in Malibu, Calif.

Kindred Spirits

Kindred Spirits offers an opportunity for educators and school staff to gather in the exchange of ideas, resources, stories and lessons pertaining to human rights education and students’ social and emotional growth. Please join us and contribute your voice to a chorus of kindred spirits.

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