Pequot museum, UCONN launch human rights education project

The University of Connecticut's Neag School of Education is teaming up with the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center and the Upstander Project for a new professional development project.

The project is called the Upstander Academy and is aimed at providing educators across the country with tools on how to teach human-rights-based lessons in the classroom.

The Academy will be held for one week, from July 31 to Aug. 4. Courses will begin and end at the University of Connecticut in Storrs and, in the middle of the week, will move to the Mashantucket Pequot Research Center and Museum for two days. Pre-service educators from the Neag School and K-12 educators from around the country will attend.

This year discussions will be on genocide education through a focus on post-genocide Rwanda and genocide against Native American peoples in New England.

Glenn Mitoma, director of the Dodd Center, said the planning for the academy began in 2015, with a pilot session running last summer. The program was revised and adapted for its full launch this summer.

"It's an opportunity for both partners," Mitoma said. Upstander Project allows them "to develop new curriculum materials and for us to approach genocide from a human rights perspective. Our hope was to not only give educators new content that they could teach, but also new approaches to teaching human rights in their classrooms."

He said the inspiration for the genocide topic stemmed from documentaries produced by the Upstander Project that focus on Rwanda and Native American communities.

"Our approach has been to see schools as the most important sites for the development of a culture of human rights that involves not only helping students learn about ... human rights content, but also to practice human rights in their classrooms by building empathy, learning how to take different perspectives and developing shared values on inclusion, acceptance and tolerance," Mitoma said. "All of those things inform what we think of as a human-rights-based approach to genocide."

Jason Mancini, director of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, said participants from the pilot program emphasized how important it was to hear from native peoples. With that in mind, there will be a speaker from the Wabanaki tribe and a speaker from Rwanda.

"Hearing directly from native community members made such an impact on the overall experience that we really looked at how do we reshape the conversation and how do we build these partnerships in a more durable way so we can affect narrative change," Mancini said.

On working with the UCONN and Upstander Project teams, Mancini said it has been a refreshing experience to see their interest in and dedication to the subjects.

"It's really been an enlightening experience to see their willingness to engage and address issues that matter to us as a native organization and to native communities," he said.

Mitoma said there is also a focus on keeping educators who take the course connected long after the academy has finished. With the return of three educators from the 2016 session, he said he hopes they will take the lead in creating a network of participating educators this year.

"We hope they feel confident that this is an important thing to introduce to their classroom, but also connected to a community of educators advancing human rights education," Mitoma said.

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