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Winnipeg Free Press | 01Nov2012 | Nick Martin

CMHR brings educators together

Museum could have big impact on curricula

Kids in Yellowknife classrooms will soon learn human rights lessons inspired by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

"It's an absolute forward-thinking idea on their part for them to meet with people who write curriculum," said John Stewart, assistant director of early childhood and student services and social studies co-ordinator for the Northwest Territories Department of Education.

The museum recently flew in senior education staff from Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Prince Edward Island. Officials from Manitoba Education attended.

"It's very rare for people who write history and social studies curricula to meet with each other," Stewart said. It's even rarer for organizations to gather such experts together, Stewart said.

"There's a surprisingly small group of organizations that think of that," he said. "They don't think to involve departments and ministries of education."

Stewart said he will incorporate museum materials into expanded human rights studies in the Northwest Territories curriculum and he expects other jurisdictions would do the same.

They'll look at the museum's resources and research, particularly on aboriginal issues and residential schools, Stewart said.

"Where do we have matches in the teaching of human rights? How can we best design the programs?" he said.

"It's a tremendously exciting opportunity," said Linda Mlodzinski, Manitoba Education's social studies consultant and manager of the instruction, curriculum and assessment branch. "There is already excitement on the ground that this is going to be a wonderful destination.

"Human rights is already on the radar screens for departments of education, since the fall of the Berlin Wall. It's alive in curricula across the country."

Mlodzinski said social studies curricula have a heavy focus on democracy.

"That consciousness is embedded in various ways. Bringing those jurisdictions together is confirmation," she said.

She cited a Thompson welding teacher: "He was teaching human rights through welding. He was having students create 3D sculptures representative of human rights. It opened my eyes to curriculum connections that are broad and deep."

Manitoba Education and the museum will formally partner, said Mlodzinski: "We're just applying the finishing touches to our own memorandum of understanding -- our hope is to have it in place by December. There's a lot of mutual benefits for that partnership."

Stewart said the relationship that ministries of education are building with the museum could certainly lead to students visiting Winnipeg, though cost would be a factor.

"Saskatchewan was saying it's a bus trip," Stewart said. For others, the museum would have to be part of a larger trip -- a student exchange "is the most likely scenario."

The museum's potential "is just stunning... there's extraordinary things" students can learn when the museum opens in 2014, he said.

Stewart said none of the education officials would have had the budget to come to Winnipeg, had the human rights museum not covered the costs.

Museum communications director Angela Cassie said it spends $800 to $1,200 per person to bring educators together in Winnipeg, which she said is more efficient than having museum staff travel across Canada to meet with officials individually.

Polar bears later, human rights first

THEY'RE older, they're affluent, they're highly educated, they're physically fit -- and they're visiting the Canadian Museum for Human Rights two years before it even opens.

The museum has struck a deal to include an afternoon at the museum on Road Scholar ecological tours to Churchill.

Formerly known as Elderhostel, Road Scholar is a popular North American tour company for people 55 and older.

Ecotourists, primarily from the U.S., are coming through Winnipeg this fall on their way to Churchill, where they'll spend five days up close and personal with polar bears and the wonders of Manitoba's far north.

They'll pay about $4,000 each, plus airfare to Winnipeg.

On their one full day in Winnipeg, they'll spend an afternoon with museum staff members.

"Lifelong learners is one of our target audiences," said Angela Cassie, communications director for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. "This is definitely a group we'll get to know."

Road Scholar tours emphasize education -- lectures and meetings with local experts are all part of the package.

Cassie said it is premature to speculate that Road Scholar would continue to include the museum on its Churchill itinerary once it's open, or even target museum visits in regional tours, but the museum is trying to partner with ecological tours, she said.

"The polar bear program is a popular program," Road Scholar's Despina Gakopoulos said from Chicago.

Gakopoulos said human rights museum lectures "will focus on the mandate of the museum as well as what social and environmental rights mean to Canada's Arctic regions, touching on how social and environmental rights are a key consideration for Canada's northern communities and the future well-being of aboriginal people who live and depend on the land.

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