Students Become Defenders of Truth

Students Become Defenders of Truth photo

Students at the high school had the unique opportunity to welcome Kerry Kennedy, daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, for a special visit and discussion about raising awareness of the needs of those less fortunate and advocating for justice. Kennedy, an activist, lawyer and president of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Foundation, spoke to students, district staff and local officials about how the organization’s Speak Truth to Power Symposium: The Effect of Human Rights Defenders Curriculum has moved along her father’s crusade to change the world.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy’s candidacy for the presidency. Freeport is the first school district in Nassau County to have embraced the Speak Truth to Power program, which ties into the district’s longstanding mission of global peace. This message has been incorporated into the district curriculum, and students have participated in helping children around the world through the Ripple of Hope Art and Advocacy Initiative.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for our students and staff to interact with a longstanding, world-renowned human rights activist, who has dedicated herself to advocating for the protection of human rights,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kishore Kuncham. “Ms. Kennedy has brought national attention to the issues that are affecting the lives of millions of innocent men, women and children across the globe. Each of us here today is preparing to stand up to injustice and send out that tiny ripple of hope. We are committed to support, promote and integrate Speak Truth to Power, the spirit and the ideals of Robert F. Kennedy and global defenders of peace in all our schools across the district.”

Following the Presentation of Colors by the school’s Navy Junior ROTC and a riveting performance of “God Bless America” by the Select Chorale, Kennedy conducted an interactive forum for the students, tasking them with considering different ways they have been courageous and stood up to injustice, and instilling in them the belief that they can each be ripples of hope in a vast ocean.

“You can make a difference, and we need your help in creating a more just and peaceful world,” Kennedy said to the students. “We’re especially grateful to the superintendent and the district because this curriculum is going to be in every Freeport public school for the next three years. What each Ripple of Hope means is that each of these students has already done something for their community. When you look at human rights defenders, they all started like the rest of us; they all started in schools. I walk around these classrooms here, and I see students engaged in their work, who care deeply about these issues, learning about not only the rest of the world, but also how that impacts our society. This is such an inspiring day for me and I want to thank you.”

Following students’ presentations about what they have learned through the curriculum, including specific human rights activists’ ideals and how they personally can make a difference in their own community, Kennedy observed the work of students in three classes. Freeport High School English and special education teacher and Human Rights Club adviser Pamela Mary Schmidt, who helped spearhead the rollout of the Speak Truth to Power curriculum and coordinate Kennedy’s visit, spoke about the importance of the program.

“The Speak Truth to Power methodology transforms students with the connective nature of human compassion that builds empathy and insight, and further enhances their ability to raise awareness of social movements that actively work toward a world of justice, peace and equity,” Schmidt said.

Kennedy’s special visit was a momentous occasion that supplemented students’ ongoing learning about social injustices and proactive approaches they can take to continue leading their lives as defenders of human rights.