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West Patent Fifth Graders Become Global Citizens

 WPES students watch a virtual UNICEF presentation by Monica Darer

This fall, fifth grade students at West Patent Elementary School worked on becoming global citizens through a community problem-based learning project centered around the rights of a child. They began by studying child rights from a historical perspective, examining the Industrial Revolution through the present day. 

Students worked on a variety of projects that helped them dive into the subject: they created posters to reinforce what they learned about the four components of global citizenship (civic responsibility, cultural awareness, the global economy and the environment) and wrote journal entries, taking the perspective of children working during the Industrial Revolution.

“Students have been looking at the essential question of whether or not all children have had rights historically,” said tiered support teacher Denise Connolly. “What did those rights look like? How did child labor happen? Now, we’re starting to explore how we can be agents of change and global citizens as we move forward helping children around the world.”

The transition to the present-day situation was marked by an engaging virtual presentation from Mónica Darer, a Child Protection Specialist with UNICEF, who reviewed examples of child labor around the world and explained what UNICEF does and how the students can help.

Carefully curating her presentation for a fifth grade audience, Darer showed a slideshow of examples of today’s child labor: kids mining for gold in Sierra Leone, working the fields in Bangladesh and selling tissues in a market in Bolivia. She gave shocking statistics, like the fact that there are 160 million children who are involved in child labor worldwide and almost 258 million children out of school.

But Darer also provided hope, noting the work UNICEF does to help these children, working with local governments to get children back in school, supporting families so they can afford supplies that their children need to attend school and raising awareness about the importance of education.

“I think there is something that we can all do. And it's not easy,” she said. “Many of the products that we buy have had child labor involved and we're not even aware of it.” She encouraged the students to become educated consumers and find child-labor-free products. “And we can also try to put pressure on companies so that they change their practices. We can raise awareness about which companies are doing the right thing and which companies need to change their practices.” 

Her response to a student’s question about companies that use child labor took everyone by surprise. 

“We all like Hershey's chocolate,” Darer said. “But Hershey's was a company that used to use chocolate from farms in West Africa, where children were working. Now they're very closely monitored.” Darer also noted companies that have been in the news, like Nike as well as fast fashion companies.

After Darer’s presentation, the focus of fifth graders’ problem-based learning project pivoted to explore The Convention for Child’s Rights, which focuses this year on the elimination of child labor.

“They’re going to look at this topic and ask themselves ‘What can we do to help at 10 years old?’” Connolly said. “We’re going to do letter writing campaigns and, in the new year, we’re starting a coin drive called ‘Change for Change’ with the goal of purchasing as many UNICEF ‘School in the Box’ kits as we can afford. We’re going to explore how we, like UNICEF, can become ‘agents of change.’”

WPES students watch virtual UNICEF presentationa student-made global citizenship poster about civic responsibility