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Girl Power: Area Students Join Worldwide Network

While Americans may take the right to education for granted, that is not necessarily the case, particularly for females, in countries around the world. Focusing on that issue is one way that members of Girls Learn International themselves learn about the world around them, partnering with schools in other nations as they reach out helping hands across the world. And, nowhere is that more true than at Edward R. Murrow High School, 1600 Avenue L, where the school’s fledgling Girls Learn chapter has been busily preparing to host the organization’s annual summit, on May 21, an event at which the students will launch a petition drive whose goal is to get the United Nations “To promote and fulfill the right to education for girls,” according Lisa Clarke, the chapter’s faculty advisor. Approximately 150 or 200 students from 25 Girls Learn Chapters in the area are expected to attend. Planning for the summit is spearheaded by the students, who meet after school with faculty advisors as they develop the necessary ingredients to make the event special. On one recent afternoon, discussion centered on the design of a button that will be given out to attendees, as well as the wording of a press release, to encourage the news media to cover the event. A “core group” of 18 to 25 students keep the chapter humming, said faculty advisor Antonia Cucchiara, who stressed that Murrow was the first public school to host a summit. Each Girls Learn chapter, according to Clarke, “Is paired with a ‘partner classroom’ providing quality education to girls in a community in which girls have traditionally been denied access to, or discouraged from commencing or completing, education.” The Murrow Girls Learn chapter, for instance, is partnering with a school in Kenya. The goal of Girls Learn, said Clarke, is, “Two-fold, to raise awareness of gender disparity in education internationally,” as well as to encourage, “students in the United States to become advocates for other students.” The idea of matching up U.S. schools with ones in other countries “where girls’ education has traditionally been disadvantaged,” said Clarke, was to provide an opportunity for the American students, “To become advocates for them in whatever way the school and group deemed appropriate. “Part of the reason I was really interested in getting our school involved,” Clarke went on, “is that a lot of the schools that are currently involved are private schools. It was important for me, too, to build a bridge between schools in the U.S.” The Murrow chapter, said Clarke, “Is fantastic. They run themselves. It took a lot of work in the beginning to help them feel comfortable in the content. The first couple of months we did research to understand what it means to talk about education and human rights, what does it mean when you say girls don’t have access to education, what are the different ways we could help.” The chapter, added Clarke, brings together Murrow students who might not necessarily get to know each other in class. “A lot of time in after school programs,” she remarked, “it’s the same type of kids, friends involved in the same activity. I wanted to make sure there were students who didn’t know each other.” This too, she said, allows for bridges to be built, new channels of communication to be formed. “The most important part for me,” added Clarke, “is that it’s student-led. They are really driving this, because even though we are affiliated with a larger organization, they are really self-motivated. The do a lot of outside research and bring it to the group. In a year, they have become advocates.” The efforts of Murrow’s Girls Learn chapter are supported by a $1,000 grant from Thirteen/WNET’s Human Rights 101 initiative, which recognizes student efforts to make a difference for others less fortunate than themselves. Human Rights 101 is in its second year, according to Edward Gregory, a spokesperson for the network. “We partner with high schools around the city by offering grants for students to initiate their own human rights projects,” Gregory explained. “The students come back with the own proposals. Part of what we want to do with Human Rights 101 is for the children to develop their own initiative in pursuing human rights. This year, 15 schools in New York and New Jersey were chosen to receive grants. Besides Murrow, three other Brooklyn schools – the Brooklyn Transition Center, Paul Robeson High School for Business and Technology and the School for Democracy and Leadership – were selected. Besides providing monetary assistance, Thirteen/WNET, “Provides resources from Channel 13,” said Gregory. “They could use Channel 13 programming in the project. And, Human Rights 101 has a very rich website as well.”

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