Students finger knit

November 12, 2019

More than 300 Iowa middle school students learned about the right to adequate living standards at the 22ndannual International Day Conference on Nov. 12th, 2019.

The International Day conference is a one-day event held each fall and is designed to educate middle school students on topics related to both local and global human rights issues. Since its inception in 1997, International Day has hosted thousands of Iowa students.

This year’s conference was focused on the right to adequate standards of living including, food, housing, and medical care.

“International Day helps students have the chance to develop compassion for others,” says Stacy Karam (BA ’97), PACT teacher at McKinley Middle School in Cedar Rapids. “Many of the events and topics discussed during International Day help students to see outside of themselves and their lives as Americans. Kids return to school with a new sense of gratitude for their own lives, and a desire to help others.”

The University of Iowa College of Education partners with The Stanley Foundation, UI International Programs, and the UI Center for Human Rights to bring middle school students and their teachers to participate from across the state, including the following communities: Cedar Rapids, Columbus Junction, Coralville/Iowa City, Durant, Jesup, Muscatine, Oelwein, and Waterloo.

“These middle school students are exposed to concepts about the world and the rights that come along with being human that they may not normally see, experience, or understand,” says Greg Hamot, a Social Studies Education professor who has helped organize this event for more than 20 years. “We hope that the impact results in a broader, more empathetic view of different cultures and experiences.”

Students heard from speakers like Jeff Conant with Friends of the Earth U.S., one of the longest-standing environmental advocacy organizations in the United States. The students also participated in hand-on activities including making reusable bags and handmade scarves, learning Thai, and creating life-sized board games.

Informative and engaging activities helped students gain knowledge and understanding about issues they may have never had to experience, including hunger, homelessness, and living with a disability.

“Our district wanted to participate in International Day because of the awareness it brings to students of diverse perspectives,” says Abagael Shrader (MA ’17), K-12 Talented and Gifted Coordinator at Louisa-Muscatine Community School District. “Being from a rural school, many of our students do not have access to the discussions that happen during International Day. These experiences help them widen their circle, develop independence, and the ability to collaborate with new people.”