HS Teacher and Her Students Fight Human Trafficking

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End Crowd interviews Denise Howell, an English teacher at White River Valley High School in rural southwestern Indiana, who is teaching a high school Leadership Class on Human Trafficking.  Ms. Howell recently received a $12,000 Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship grant that will allow her to continue her own training so that she might continue teaching others how to combat modern day slavery.

No slavery speakers

Q. How did you first learn the facts about human trafficking?

A. I have a nephew who has three young girls. He and his wife became very concerned about the issue.  They are committed abolitionists, and I began to learn from them.  I was shocked to see that estimates show 29 million people in the world today are slaves.  The statistics involving children are staggering and heart-breaking.  And every state in America is already struggling with answers to the problem of child slavery.

 Q. You teach in a rural school system, not a big city. Why do you consider it important to teach your students about human trafficking in an outlying rural community?

A. I see three primary reasons. First and most urgently, I think my students are at a risk of being targets.  Many have talked to me about their desires to venture away from their rural upbringings. They are looking for excitement, adventure, and something that sets them apart from their traditional hometown lifestyles.  Much of what they learn about the “world beyond” is discovered through their unlimited social network, which is right at their fingertips. Social media is one of the powerful tools used to lure victims.  If students are not fully aware of the risks, dangers, and warning signs, they could find themselves quickly engaging in activities that could lead to tragedy.

Secondly, in a classroom discussion about the Emancipation Proclamation with my students last February, I learned that most believed human slavery is something of the past or that it only occurs in the inner city, in third world countries, or in prostitution rings. Students also indicated that they have never had a discussion about human trafficking with their parents.  They were unaware that 21st century slavery is also connected to the coffee, chocolate, fast food, clothing, modeling, and marketing industries…or that it victimizes people of all ages and from every walk of life.  The points of engagement are subtle and are as highly accessible as drugs. It currently impacts more than 29 million people (that we are aware), including teens in small town America, like the communities in which my students live.

After that discussion, I had to ask myself, “Why aren’t we talking about it?!”  Human trafficking is tragically flying under the radar of other important causes that engage so many individuals in pink ribbons walks, bucket challenges, and color runs.  I realize that my classroom may be the only place I can get the attention of the teens in my community.  And that critical window of opportunity for awareness leads to the third reason.

As a high school teacher, I have learned the power of compounded interest.  When you enlighten one person, they can, in turn, enlighten others.  Once my students become educated, they can teach up and out!  They will teach up to their parents, other teachers, administrators, and community leaders.  More importantly they will teach out to their peers and siblings.  Teens listen to other teens.

In addition to other classes, I teach a high school leadership class. The reason I choose to incorporate this curriculum into this class is because I know they will be aware, they will educate, and they will become part of the solution to stop this rapidly growing problem starting right here in Greene County, Indiana.

The third reason is that as an educator, I know the power that comes from teaching and learning.  My goal in using this curriculum is to protect every precious student in my class, in our school, and in our community.

Q. Did you develop this program yourself?

A. I was surprised to learn that there is already a terrific curriculum available to teachers from ECPAT, End Child Prostitution and Trafficking. The toolkit provides: 1) Fact sheets, Statistics, and FAQs 2) Lesson Plan for Educators (6-12) 3) Associated materials 4) List of Activities for Educators and 5) 2014 Legislative Advocacy Opportunities.

This is the definition used in the curriculum:  Child sex trafficking is a form of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. It is a serious federal crime with penalties of up to life imprisonment. Those who recruit minors into prostitution violate federal anti-trafficking laws, even if there is no coercion or movement across state lines. Federal law defines sex trafficking as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for a commercial sex act, in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which a person induced to perform such an act has not yet attained 18 years of age (22 U.S.C. §7102(9)).

Q. Are you using this curriculum in any other classes?

A. This year, I will only be teaching this curriculum in my leadership class. The main goal of the class is to teach students how to manage and implement projects in an effort to make them college and career ready. These students have been running four concurrent projects throughout this school year.  One of those project involves the topic of human trafficking.  It is an educational project designed to ultimately reach the entire school and community.

Q. Did you or your school administrators have any concerns about teaching the topic in your classroom?

A. I discussed the curriculum with our administrators, and I explained that my first outreach must be to the parents of the students in the leadership class. Some may have questions or wonder why we would be teaching this topic. The answer is simple, it is too easily accessible for us to ignore.  First, I want parents to be aware of the risks.  Secondly, as with every topic taught, I need the parents to support the work of the classroom. Education is a team effort.  I knew that these students would have a powerful impact on our student body and our community with this initiative. The curriculum will educate them, but it will also call them to action. Their parents need to understand the scope and expectation.

Q. How easy was the curriculum to actually implement in your classroom?

A. The ECPAT Curriculum was very helpful, especially during the first nine weeks of school, which was devoted to educating the students about the issues. During the second nine weeks, the class conducted their own research to identify solid news sources, organizations, and awareness activities that would broaden their knowledge. Now in the third nine-weeks and the second semester, the students are focused on growing awareness within their school.  They have conducted public service announcements to the student body, posted banners in the hallways, and are planning lunch time information tables.  They have conducted information sessions for our school’s board of directors, the school counselor, administrators, and are now creating cross-discipline lesson plans that they will teach in all the subject areas—social studies, history, etc. The lesson plans tie those subject areas directly to issues of slavery and human trafficking.  In the last nine-weeks of the school year, the students will be taking their message to other school systems, the business community, local law enforcement, the pastor’s association, and county and state government employees. It has been inspiring to watch this small class grow with enthusiasm and find their individual and collective voice to speak out against what they now consider to be the greatest humanitarian concern of their generation.

Q. How receptive have your students been to the topic? Has it impacted their way of thinking?

A. I have invited them to speak for themselves in the section below.

WORDS FROM THE STUDENTS

Jazlyn Lundy, Senior

The slavery unit has made me change my perspective and raise my awareness about everything. I am more cautious about the signs of being trapped within the holds of slavery. I am also more aware about the products I am purchasing and supporting.

Brandon Turrise, Senior

The slavery unit has greatly impacted my life.  I now know that slavery still happens, not only around the world, but in our own community as well. Because I have become much more aware, when I enter the military overseas soon, I will do my best to keep a watchful eye out for anything that could allow me to help victims to safety.

Alexis Graves, Senior

When I first entered this class, I was unaware of modern day slavery. If someone would have asked me to define it, I would have said something about how Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery a long time ago. Now, I am very aware that human slavery and trafficking is prominent around us, in third world countries and in the United States! This class has motivated me to make others aware of what’s happening around them. Human trafficking is a horrible issue that needs more attention globally, and with the help of ECPAT, End Crowd, and other humanitarian organizations, we can abolish slavery for good!

Anna Moreno, Senior

When someone says that slavery “isn’t a thing anymore”, I inform them on the information that we have learned this year. Several people I know think slavery is non-existent today. Honestly, it frustrates me when people say that, because I have become aware that slavery is happening around me.  Now it’s my job to make other people aware.

Rachel Lockaby, Sophomore

This unit has completely changed my way of thinking. My awareness of the many dangers that lead to human trafficking and slavery has skyrocketed since I started this class in August. I had never even heard the term “human trafficking” until I was taught about it through this class. I’m very thankful for the knowledge that I have gained and continue to gain with the help of Ms. Howell and the Anti-Slavery unit she teaches so well.

 

Denise Desk

ABOUT MS. HOWELL’S GRANT

Denise Howell, an English teacher at White River Valley High School in Switz City, Indiana has received a Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship. With a grant of $12,000, Ms. Howell will participate with organizations, seminars, and classes that will better equip her to teach others about how to combat human trafficking and to serve survivors who have suffered from being a victim.

Ms. Howell is one of 100 educators taking part in the 2016 Fellowship program. These K-12 educators work in a variety of schools across Indiana, including traditional public schools, charter schools, and private schools – both religiously affiliated and independent. Since the Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship program began in 1987, more than 2,800 Indiana teachers, principals, guidance counselors and media specialists have received fellowships.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based, private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family — J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons J.K. Jr. and Eli — through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. The Endowment supports the causes of community development, education and religion and maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana.

THE ECPAT CURRICULUM 

Other teachers can request this curriculum from ECPAT at http://www.ecpatusa.org/educators-toolkit

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