Teens Celebrate Human Rights


A few years ago, one student at Garden City's Anser Charter School expressed her frustration with learning about human-rights violations all over the world, and not doing anything to stop them.

“‘We shouldn’t talk about it if we aren’t going to change it,’ that’s what she said,” Heather Dennis, organization director of Anser, said.

The school put together the Youth for Human Rights Celebration, and May 24th marked the third year at the Anne Frank Memorial. The park filled with 108 seventh- and eighth-graders from Anser, all sporting blue shirts with a sunflower on the back.

This year celebrated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Along the memorial's stone benches and waterfall, students stood beside poster boards representing one of the 30 articles in the declaration.

Twelve-year-old Gillian Beverage stood proudly beside her board displaying Freedom of Expression.

“Mary Beth Tinker is my freedom-of-expression hero,” she said. “She wore a black armband to protest the Vietnam War and got suspended from school. But we should be able to protest what we want to and say what we want to say.”

“I like being unique myself,” she said, wearing a hairband with a flower half the size of her small face.

Anser strives to be a place of innovation, opening 13 years ago. It works towards a hands-on learning experience, including lots of community service starting in kindergarten. The seventh- and eighth-grade classes learn about the Holocaust and apartheid every other year.

Diane Williams works as the social studies and writing teacher, and won this year’s Idaho Human Rights Educator of the Year award.

“I’m not much for awards. I’m going to cry,” she laughed.

“Teens need a voice,” Williams said.

Teaching such heavy subject matter can be overwhelming at times, but she tries to balance her reading and research. She said her students are genuinely interested in the topics.

“I just lay the feast,” Williams said. “The kids chose what to eat.”

The performance part of the evening featured 20 to 25 performances ranging from spoken word and rhetoric to dance to song to one silent performance. The performances spoke on topics such as the right to Social Security, sexual identity, and basic needs.

In one piece, two girls wore bandanas around their mouths and only held up signs, presenting the hardships of domestic violence.

At the end of the performance, the students handed out 30 candles into the audience for 30 human rights.

Erin Zaleski has had two children go through Anser. Her youngest is a seventh-grader.

“The students really work as a team to get to the top,” she said. “And I just learned from them I can’t stand by if I want to make a change. I’m running for a House seat.”

“It’s a beautiful example that real people can create change,” Dennis said.