Coxsackie-Athens students moved by human rights webcast

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Students at Coxsackie-Athens High School in rural Greene County were particularly moved Friday – some near tears – when they heard 16-year-old Jessica Rios talk about her life as a migrant farm worker.

“Is this what my life will always be like?” she muses in The Harvest, a new documentary by filmmaker U Roberto Romano that tells the stories of five children who are among the 500,000 youth who work in agriculture in the United States. (Romano’s previous film, The Dark Side of Chocolate, documents child slavery in the cocoa industry.) Rios dreams of becoming a Registered Nurse so her parents won’t have to work in the fields anymore.

Friday’s film segment was part of an hour-long webinar arranged by NYSUT and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights to launch new lesson plans on human rights for students in grades 6-12.

Friday, by the way, was International Human Rights Day.

About 20 school districts across New York participated. The event originated from the classroom of Diane Gonzalez, a teacher and NYSUT member at Chestnut Ridge Middle School in Spring Valley, where Kerry Kennedy, daughter of former U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy, U.S. attorney general and presidential candidate, spoke to students about human rights. The new curriculum is based on her book Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who are Changing the World.

The 80 students, teachers and staff members at Coxsackie-Athens gathered in the high school’s library for the event and cheered when they received a shoutout from Spring Valley about their social justice efforts. The school’s World of Difference Club hosts food drives for Greene County’s food pantry and collects clothing for families in need. Their sales of fair trade chocolate help to underwrite the annual trip members make to the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York City.

Teachers Donna Bryan and Christine Radez, both union members, helped coordinate the event; Bryan also helped to write the curriculum.

Radez, who teaches 10th grade Global History, said the webinar was a perfect fit for her instruction.

“This ties directly into what the students are learning. They’ve been studying the human price of efficiency.”

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