“They are learning about their rights and the rights of children,” said Angelica Pereyra, a Palisades High art teacher and human rights advisor. “In doing so, they are polishing their advocacy skills.”
Pereyra was touting the 30 members of PaliHi’s Human Rights Watch Student Task Force, led by co-presidents senior Hallie McRae and junior Izzy Gill, who presented their current campaigns to more than 450 students and teachers in Mercer Hall on March 6.
Former PaliHi Principal Merle Price, who had been approached by the director of the Thomas Mann House Visiting Fellows program, brought two visiting scholars from Germany to the exhibit. The Fellows were interested in American student activism.
“I am impressed by how knowledgeable the HRW students have become about issues of local, national and international concern including climate change, immigration policy, homeless families, sustainable energy for the future, and gun violence,” Price said. “Students demonstrated that they had done a lot of research on these and other human rights issues.
“Most impressive was the passion of the student presenters and their commitments to engaging their peers as well as other local, state, and national leaders in finding solutions and making progress in addressing their concerns for the future,” he said.
The Mann Fellows and Director Nikolai Blaumer spent more than two hours at the high school: the feedback was emphatically positive.
The STF students spent weeks researching and preparing their six interactive stations, each of which was impressive.
The first station involved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was championed by Eleanor Roosevelt after World War II and adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948.
Senior Salma Durra and juniors Patrick King and Beau Staun-List explained how the UDHR document set out the fundamental human rights that should be universally protected, such as equality in rights, freedom from discrimination, the right to life, liberty & personal security, etc. (Visit: un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/).
Durra, King and Staun-List also illustrated examples of violations of childrens’ rights and the need for the creation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a human rights treaty that recognizes that children (under age 18) are entitled to special safeguards in order to achieve full and safe development.
The UN General Assembly adopted the treaty in November 1989, and it became the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. One hundred and ninety-four (194) countries have ratified it, with promises to protect childrens’ rights. The only country that has not ratified the treaty is the United States.
Some people in the U.S. claim issues of sovereignty and potential interference in family life in opposing U.S. ratification, but Pali’s STF students disagree. They encouraged fellow students to sign petitions that will be sent to California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, urging the United States to ratify the convention.
At another station, STFers addressed Climate Change, which they know will have a huge impact on their futures.
“Coastal cities could be destroyed, which would create millions of refugees,” said Dava Hand, who also demonstrated with visuals how that habitat destruction would endanger countless species.
Hand said that education is important, and we need to adopt “sustainable energy methods for the planet and for ourselves.”
The Los Angeles Unified School District has voted to take steps towards combating climate change by turning to renewable energy for district schools. Hand and her fellow students asked exhibit visitors to vote whether they wanted solar panels installed at Pali and received an overwhelming response urging conversion to solar power. Their message is being conveyed to the school’s administration and to L.A. school board member Nick Melvoin
Circling the News joined a group of students who entered the “End Gun Violence” exhibit.
“Yesterday we had an active intruder shooter drill at Pali,” Hallie McRae said as an opening to her presentation.
It is chilling to think that kids now, in addition to learning history and math, are also taught what to do if faced with a shooter.
Looped through the booth was a 40-ft chain of paper loops. On each loop was written the name of one of the 1,488 students who have been killed or injured in school shootings in recent years.
The chain was made at Sierra Canyon School and shared with PaliHi in a collaboration between the HRW Student Task Force chapters, now active in 13 L.A.-area high schools. Local resident and public-school activist Pam Bruns founded the STF in 1999 while she was the California Director for HRW. Pali is the oldest STF chapter and one of the most active.
At the “End Gun Violence” booth, students asked guests to consider signing petitions to Congressional members to support four current bills aimed at reducing gun violence.
Junior Madison Liberman led student presentations in a tent advocating for human rights for homeless youth and also researched services for home and food insecure students attending Pali. She and her team produced a foldout business card for students that provides information on how and where to access support resources at the school.
The Homeless Youth tent featured photos and statistics about the homeless crisis: 50-60,000 people are homeless every night in Los Angeles, and 9,000 of them are homeless youth. Many youth on L.A. streets were kicked out by a parent, or have been subjected to physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
For the second year, the STF addressed the human rights violations of children who have been separated from their families at the southern border with Mexico. Mia MacFarland and her team screened actual video of children crying in terror as they were separated from family and later, traumatic reunions with parents showing toddlers who no longer recognized their parents.
Concluding the demonstrations of so many human rights violations, Izzy Gill and her team presented reason for hope with photos (and quotes) and video of student activists like Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg and Greta Thunberg, who have taken their activism to a national and international level. Exhibit guests enjoyed “Standing with Greta” in a photo op that has been posted online at hrwstf.org and on social media.
The HRW Student Task Force meets once a week at lunchtime (when school is in session) and work “virtually” in the evenings after long days of classroom and school sports and activities and receive no classroom credit.
“It is a noble group that gravitates towards this work,” teacher Pereyra said. “They don’t expect anything for themselves, except that they hope to see results. They are good human beings.”