Human Rights Awareness Week provides learning opportunity for Ponderosa students
PARKER – This week students at Ponderosa High School will have the opportunity to listen to and meet survivors from various atrocities in human history. The learning opportunity is part of a weeklong school-sponsored Human Rights Awareness Week, which aims at educating students about problems facing our world, as well actions they can take to help.
“We try to find different people every year,” explained Ponderosa Social Studies Teacher Mark Thorsen. “This year we have a panel of survivors from different genocides from Bosnia, the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We’ve never had that sort of opportunity before.”
Thorsen is one of three staff members who started the Human Rights Awareness Week at Ponderosa six years ago.
”In conversation with our kids in our classrooms there seemed to be a lack of knowledge about some of the problems that are faced around the world and about human rights in general,” Thorsen said.
During the past six years, Thorsen has worked to bring in a variety of guests to Ponderosa to share global concerns and to spark thoughtful, civil conversations.
“It’s different when they’re hear and you can ask questions, compared to seeing a YouTube video of [the guest’s] experience,” Thorsen said. “Ultimately if we can pique the students’ interest and they want to learn more, it gives them empowerment and an opportunity to do something in action that they may not have had otherwise.”
Action is a big part of the event.
“That’s one of the requests we make is that they have something tangible that kids can do right now to make a difference,” Thorsen said.
Thorsen says, in this Information Age, many people, including students, feel helpless. Through this event, he tries to show the students that today, more than ever, thy have the tools they need to make change happen.
“Ultimately, it’s really this is the first generation with the resources to make a significant difference, because they can communicate in ways that was never imagined a decade ago,” Thorsen said. “It’s about helping them to understanding the tools that they have at their disposal.”
For example, last year Ponderosa worked with featured organization Optimus Youth to raise money for construction of a school in Mozambique. So far they’ve gathered nearly $6,000–enough to build one of the eight classrooms needed.
The week's activities culminate Thursday and Friday, September 12 and 13. On Thursday the school will host Holocaust survivor Eric Cahn and a panel with survivors of genocide. Friday will feature a presentation regarding Optimus Youth. Parents and community members are welcome to attend either session. Both are scheduled from 9:20 to 10:20 a.m.
Thorsen says it’s impossible to know the true impact that the event is having, in part because some students don’t choose to become active until years after they graduate from Ponderosa.
“You just have to trust that you are providing good opportunities for students to engage,” Thorsen said.
Follow this link for a full schedule of this year's events.