LYNN — Five students planted an idea at the beginning of the school year; Lynn Public Schools should offer a human rights and values curriculum. Now, some school administrators are “harvesting their enthusiasm.”
Last October, Lynn English sophomore Carlos Prudencio, along with friends Nyah Lalimarmo, Michelle Nolasco, Jasmine Phok and Jenny Ly, started a petition and received 350 student signatures from all the city’s high schools. When the signed memorandum got into the hands of Mayor Thomas M. McGee and Superintendent Patrick Tutwiler, the students were invited to a breakfast on Feb. 7.
“I felt the energy and shock of everyone being supportive of this,” Prudencio said.
Shannon Gardner, assistant director for the humanities curriculum in Lynn Public Schools, also attended the February meeting. She said the students’ strong commitment to human rights, their investment in learning, and their hopes to instill these lessons in the curriculum for future generations are “wonderful to behold.”
“The curriculum department invited Carlos to do some deeper thinking about where we might broaden human rights content in the current curriculum,” Tutwiler said. “That is slated to happen this summer. Related to that planned experience will be discussion on specific professional learning activities. Carlos recently shared his thinking on the professional learning which, at a glance, is really impressive.”
With suggestions from a few School Committee members, Prudencio and his team wrote a full proposal for a Professional Development Day dedicated to training teachers on how to take the curriculum and bring it into the classroom. School Committee member Jared Nicholson said human rights and values could be implemented into the new civics curriculum, given the district has been working on overhauling it as a result of some statewide changes.
“Their initiative of taking on such an important issue is encouraging and something I think people are excited about,” said Nicholson. “We need to harvest their enthusiasm … Having students’ voices in curriculum design is sending a good message to students that we are including them in the design of their own education.”
The idea came to fruition last year after Prudencio participated in Educate to Remember, a workshop hosted by the Lynn nonprofit Global Embassy of Activists for Peace. He continued to volunteer with the program and became inspired by their work. He spent the beginning of this school year seeing if his peers were interested in such a curriculum.
Now, six months after their petition went out, the students’ hard work is being noticed not only by city officials and school administrators, but also by State Rep. Dan Cahill and Sen. Brendan Crighton, who reached out to Prudencio via email.
“I thought all of this would have taken a lot more time but it’s all happening really fast,” Nolasco said.
“I never expected it to get this far,” said Phok. “People are actually listening to us and what we have to say … Now, more than ever, kids get in certain situations where they need to understand the basics of human rights.”
Toni Dimeo-Zavras, the department head of social studies at Lynn English, said the students exemplify leadership and dignity. She could see the lessons of human rights and values easily woven into the updated civics curriculum, which would begin on the elementary level, she said.
“Educating our students on human values and human dignity is vital,” said School Committee member Michael Satterwhite. “I support this push by students in our schools and I am hopeful the administration will take steps to share in this awesome moment for our city. We all believe that a quality education should be accessible and available to all but we should also believe the same about human rights.”