School serves as videoconference site for U.N. program


Photo by Alan M. Dumoff/More photos

studentconference-webLeft photo: St. Joseph High School seniors Dana Conte and Taylor Draddy went to the United Nations and served as moderators at the Student Conference on Human Rights on Friday, Dec. 4.

For the second straight year, St. Joseph High School in Hammonton was a video conference site for the United Nations Student Conference on Human Rights.

On Friday, Dec. 4, the school hosted 55 students from five schools, including 21 students currently in the Global Studies course at St. Joseph’s. Other students came from Delsea Regional High School, Franklinville; Sterling High School, Somerdale; NJ Homeschool, Pennsauken; and St. Mary Grammar School, Gloucester City.

The all-day conference linked the school with the United Nations Headquarters in New York, where they joined students from around the world in creating a plan to stop human rights abuses.

The Distance Video Conference, from the U.N. Headquarters, was also viewed by students in other nations such as Mexico, Belgium, France, and British Columbia. Besides St. Joseph’s, the only other video-conference link in the United States was in Pennsylvania.

This year, the conference centered on human rights education, and how this education can prevent abuse and violence. Students studied the different components of human rights education, what needed to be addressed to effect change, how education could help students become human rights advocates, and the role information and communication technologies can play in promoting human rights learning.

On Oct. 23, a Conference on Students Voices for Human Rights took place, where students developed a resolution defining human rights, based on six sub-themes: Educating on the Rights of Children, Fighting Conflict with Human Rights Education, Fighting Intolerance with Human Rights Education, Educating on Gender Equality, Using Information and Communication Technologies to Promote Human Rights Education, and Creating Student Ambassadors for Human Rights. (See related story.) They added to these resolutions last Friday.

As well, two seniors from the school, Taylor Draddy and Dana Conte, were chosen to be present at the United Nations Student Conference, arriving on Wednesday and leaving Friday night.

The two participated in workshops on group dynamics, conference protocol and thematic discussions at the headquarters.

The students, working in particular sub-theme committees, were voted by their peers to serve as two out of the four moderators. In this capacity, they addressed other conference members in attendance, and around the world.

“We’ve been given this opportunity…to better understand (human rights), we can help people,” remarked Dana Conte, who, as Moderator 1, introduced each video conference site, and the Human Rights Education panel in New York, made up of a field organizer for Amnesty International, a human rights officer for the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, and a teacher and student from Brooklyn’s School for Human Rights.

Dana, who plans on being a political science major in college, said that she and Taylor visited such New York landmarks as Times Square and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. A visit to the U.N. International School took place, and the two stayed with students whose parents work at the U.N., all adding up to a great cultural experience.

“All students wanted to collaborate, and to promote human rights,” said Taylor, who plans to be an international relations major in college. As Moderator 2, Taylor facilitated a question and answer period between the sites and the panelists.

Bill Hocker, teacher of the Global Studies program, called it “an exciting time for St. Joseph’s” with the conference and the two students named as moderators. Noting that the school has undertaken other service projects, such as raising money to combat poverty and assisting Camden’s Romero Center, Hocker called it just some ways the students embrace the mission of St. Joseph’s to “think globally, act locally.”

With the conference, those present at the St. Joseph site could let the world know what they are doing locally regarding human rights issues, while also assisting in the drafting and resolution of an international youth Plan of Action on Human Rights.

“We, as educators, are challenged to prepare students for the problems and concerns that are found in a global society,” said Lynn Domenico, St. Joseph’s principal. “This conference provides a catalyst for our students to understand and to actively seek social justice while living in an interdependent world.”

“Maybe someday we can go back (to the U.N.) and do more work,” said Draddy.