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Human Rights Take Front and Center for the New York City Schools

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child put forth that one primary purpose of schools is to develop respect for human rights and the fundamental freedoms that all children should enjoy. They noted that to truly understand and promote human rights, one has to live them out in relation to others.

The New York City schools has taken this directive seriously and to heart by creating its School for Human Rights, a combined middle and high school academy that is built around the concept of human rights. It is one of nearly 150 small public schools opened through special initiatives in the last three years by the New York City schools, having opened its doors in September 2004. During the New York City schools’ school year 2005-2006, the School of Human Rights had over 180 students.

Located in Brooklyn, the School for Human Rights is rare, even for the New York City schools. Its core values are dignity, respect and responsibility, which is the driving force behind its curriculum, how the students learn and the teachers teach, how they treat one another, and the types of adults the New York City schools hope the students become. Human rights are demonstrated to students by how the school meets the educational needs of each and every student; in its practices, such as discipline with dignity; examples given in class, questions raised by teachers, the active discussions, critical thinking and reflection that are part of the project-based coursework; and even in the human rights enriching field trips.

The School of Human Rights is the only New York City schools that integrates an academic and social skills-based curriculum. It even immerses human rights into its extracurricular activities, such as film festivals and workshops with human rights defenders.

The School of Human Rights challenges the New York City schools students to become compassionate and socially engaged young adults, who are committed to equality, dignity and social consciousness. Amnesty International USA, Human Rights Education Association, and New Visions for Public Schools, who have partnered with the New York City schools and made this school possible, hope to see many of these New York City schools’ students carry over what they learn into their adult lives, as well as to enter social justice careers.

The New York City schools based the School for Human Rights on UNICEF’s framework to:

• Recognize the rights of every child;
• See the whole child in a broad context, in the home environment as well as at school;
• Be child centered, ensuring the psychological and social well being of each child;
• Be gender sensitive and girl friendly by eliminating stereotypes and constraints to education, while promoting achievement;
• Promote quality learning outcomes;
• Base education on each child’s unique identity, previous school experience, community, and family;
• Promote New York City schools’ student rights and responsibilities within the school environment, including ensuring inclusion, respect and equality of opportunity for each child;
• Enhance New York City schools’ teacher capacity, morale, commitment and status, and
• Be family focused.

To ensure the School of Human Rights teachers have the resources and professional development they need, the Human Rights Education Association provides this support to the New York City schools. Teachers have found that the most difficult task is presenting human rights in a meaningful and empowering manner, making human rights more than an abstract concept.

The School of Human Rights is unique and will empower its students beyond what is found in other public schools.

About the Author: Patricia Hawke is a staff writer for Schools K-12, providing free, in-depth reports on all U.S. public and private K-12 schools. Patricia has a nose for research and writes stimulating news and views on school issues. For more information on New York City schools visit

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