The Rights of the Child

Students build their own Bill of Rights.
Grade Level

Lesson Overview

Team Harmony taught other students about the UN's Declaration on the Rights of a Child (see below) during social studies classes. From there, team members prompted conversations about the school's need for its own bill of rights and solicited input from every student in the school as to what those rights should be. Through a "United Teams Conference" (a planned gathering of Team Harmony members and student volunteers), the submissions generated in social studies classes were reduced to a core set of rights. The "Rights of the AMS Community" program culminated in the creation of a hallway display that spotlights our new bill of rights.

Sandy Nevens is the dean of students at Auburn (Maine) Middle School. He and Drea Beale, a Poland Regional High School teacher, served as advisors to Team Harmony last year.


Step #1: Student-Led Social Studies Lesson

1. In social studies classes, Team Harmony members introduced the group's overall mission and the day's assignment: an exploration of children's rights and the rights of the Auburn Middle School community.

2. As an attempt to create a commitment to the rights of children, Harmony students presented the United Nations' Declaration on the Rights of the Child. Using an overhead projector, the students showed the 10 core rights defined in the document. (See below.)

Team Harmony members then discussed the issues the Declaration raises in the world and in the U.S. In Kosovo, for example, how many of these rights did the Albanian refugee children lack? Although most people assume that American children have these rights, do all Americans enjoy them? Are there young people in our country, for example, who do not have access to adequate nutrition and medical care? Do all U.S. children experience affection, love and understanding?

3. Team Harmony then focused the conversation on the school community and introduced the day's main assignment: the creation of a set of rights that would apply to our school. Harmony members explained that these rights should include four core values used by teachers in our school—respect, responsibility, honesty and compassion—and offer ways we could treat one another better. They asked their peers, "What rights do we all need to be safe in our school?"

4. After giving students the opportunity to reflect on their own about the possible rights for Auburn Middle School, Team members divided the class into groups of four and asked each group to narrow their individual lists to four or five rights that could represent the group's view. The small groups wrote down their final selections and then shared them with the entire class verbally. The class then worked to choose five to ten rights from the small group lists.

5. At the end of the class, the Harmony members invited students to attend a United Teams Conference, during which the rights from all 27 classes would be condensed to a list of rights that represented all students in the school. Students who wished to attend the United Teams Conference were asked to sign a pledge sheet that identified them as students committed to the Rights of AMS.


Step #2: The United Teams Conference

Although it did not draw as many students as Team Harmony had hoped, the United Teams Conference succeeded in its mission to flesh out a "Bill of Rights of the Auburn Middle School Community." Working from lists generated in the 27 class discussions, a small group of students selected what they considered to be "core" rights that promoted not just safety but also tolerance. They are:

  • The right to be safe from physical and emotional harm;
  • The right to give and receive respect without labeling;
  • The right to learn without interruption;
  • The right to have a voice in all aspects of Auburn Middle School;
  • The right to a balanced student-teacher relationship in and out of the classroom;
  • The right to an appropriate setting to discuss conflicts; and
  • The right to be free from harassment.


Step #3: A Permanent Display

Team Harmony's final goal for the "Rights of the Auburn Middle School" program was to create a permanent display of the rights. After Harmony student Pam Yomoah designed a logo for the campaign— a human figure with rainbow hair—the students used a 4-by-5-foot board to construct a display that featured the list of rights, the four core values (respect, responsibility, honesty and compassion) and the new logo.

With the principal's permission, Team Harmony will place the Rights of the AMS Community on aprominent wall in the school's entry hall in December 1999 so that all who enter our school will see the commitment our students have to the issues of tolerance and community.

For students on Team Harmony, the experience solidified what has become their ongoing commitment toward the creation of a more tolerant world. "I loved the feeling I got when I started teaching kids my own age about diversity and how to tolerate it in our schools," says Sarah Gardiner, now an 8th grader. "I believe we changed some hearts and opened some minds to the problems kids face with discrimination. I'm very proud of being a Team Harmony member because I'm part of an active group trying to make a difference."


UN's Declaration on the Rights of a Child

In November 1998, vandals targeted a synagogue in Auburn, Maine, twice over a single weekend. As an anti-bias teacher of more than 20 years and as the new dean of students at Auburn Middle School, I felt compelled to use these horrendous crimes as a "teachable moment." I not only wanted my students to be aware that "these things" happen in our community, but I also wanted to instill in them the desire to stand up against hate.

So, working with the school's seven social studies teachers, I showed the seventh and 8th graders the film "Not In Our Town," which depicts how citizens of Billings, Montana, took a stand against bigotry after anti-Semitic crimes rocked their community. The teachers then conducted classroom activities on the topic of tolerance.

Soon after the school-wide program, eight students had the opportunity to attend a diversity conference in Boston. When they returned to Auburn, the students proposed the formation of a new group that would promote tolerance and celebrate diversity at our school.

Calling ourselves Team Harmony, the group met weekly and successfully planned and implemented a variety of programs, including a display for Martin Luther King Day and a bulletin board about the ethnic conflicts in Kosovo. I was pleased that the students not only had recognized the challenges that diversity poses but also had opted to take a stand in favor of tolerance and understanding.

And then Columbine happened. Like so many others across the country, the Auburn Middle School community was shocked and horrified by the shooting that claimed 14 lives. Not surprisingly, news of the violence at the Colorado high school monopolized discussions at Team Harmony's weekly meetings.

Reports that the student shooters had faced taunting from peers may have struck home with Auburn's middle schoolers, because Team Harmony members soon began arguing that they should have the right to come to school without fellow students putting them down or harassing them.

The conversation immediately brought to my mind a lesson plan developed by David Shelby and Graham Pike, authors of Global Teacher, Global Learner that involves the use of United Nations' Declaration on the Rights of the Child (1959) in student-led initiatives.

After I introduced Team Harmony to the UN Declaration, my colleague Drea Beale and I listened as the students' questions began to spill forth. What types of rights should students have in our school? What rights would make our school a safer place for all students? Who will determine these rights? How will these rights be developed?

As we examined these questions and the information contained in the Declaration on the Rights of a Child, a strategy began to emerge—one through which every student could be involved in developing "Auburn Middle School's Bill of Rights."


The Ten Core Rights of the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of a Child 

1. The Right to affection, love and understanding

2. The Right to adequate nutrition and medical care

3. The Right to free medical care

4. The Right to full opportunity for play and recreation

5. The Right to a name and nationality

6. The Right to special care, if handicapped

7. The Right to be among the first to receive relief in times of disaster

8. The Right to be a useful member of society and to develop individual abilities

9. The Right to be brought up in a spirit of peace and universal brotherhood

10. The Right to enjoy these rights, regardless of race, color, sex, religion, national or social origin

Teaching Tolerance collage of images

Welcome to Learning for Justice—Formerly Teaching Tolerance!

Our work has evolved in the last 30 years, from reducing prejudice to tackling systemic injustice. So we’ve chosen a new name that better reflects that evolution: Learning for Justice.

Learn More