WRV teacher begins second year of human trafficking course
A White River Valley High School teacher is in her second year of teaching a program about human trafficking.
Denise Howell, an English teacher at WRV, received the Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship grant last year, which was worth $12,000.
"The grant is for teachers that is supposed to take me out of the classroom to expand my knowledge," Howell said. "I have a passion in my life for helping those who have experienced human trafficking in some kind of way. I want to help prevent it, raise awareness to it and help survivors."
Howell used a part of the grant she received to spend a week with End Crowd, a group that describes itself as "a community fighting for the freedom for the millions enslaved in the world today" on its website.
"End Crowd is an awesome organization and they're now with a group called Walk Free," Howell said. "The two organizations are enormous."
Howell's time with End Crowd was spent learning language skills.
"They helped me with language," Howell said. "For example, somebody who has been trafficked and they've come out of it and are recovering, we have to be careful about the language that we use. Instead of referring to them as a victim, they are referred to as a survivor."
Last year, WRV was selected as a case study for the two organizations.
"We were selected as a case study for developing an awareness program that would be rolled out to teenagers," Howell said. "This is a program that is designed to be replicated in any kind of school environment, youth group, YMCA club or 4-H program. It can be replicated anywhere, and we completed that at the end of last year."
According to Howell, the study is now being used in different places.
"It's kind of cool because the program has four basic components. It was wonderful to work with End Crowd, they're so knowledgeable and their team just kind of jumped on board," Howell said.
Howell added the program can be taught in different ways.
"I teach it in my leadership class over the course of a whole year," Howell said. "A youth leader could teach it over the course of a month, or a YMCA coach could teach it in four days. It can be done in any breakdown of four."
Howell's program is broken into each of the four parts taking part in each nine-week period of the school year.
"For the first nine-weeks, the students are simply educated," Howell said. "I've been so fortunate to have direct contact with the best training and advocate professionals, not just in the country but in the world, to provide information to our students.
"For the first nine-weeks, I am pouring into them in a huge way what they need to know about human trafficking so they realize what the scope of it is. It's enormous."
The second nine-weeks is used for research.
"Out of the first nine-weeks, there is probably something that sparks in them (the students) like, what it means to be a child bride, how human trafficking is connected to the chocolate industry or seeing how rural students in Greene County are at risk for being trafficked," Howell said. "They research that topic and become an expert on it. They then train their own classmates about the topic they researched."
The third nine-weeks is focused on developing an awareness presentation.
"As a team, they develop an awareness presentation to any venue that will have us," Howell said. "They spend the nine-weeks developing Powerpoint presentations, dramas or public speeches that they will give."
The last nine-week period is dedicated to putting it all together.
"We've gone to churches, businesses, government agencies and other schools before," Howell said. "The last nine-weeks is the actual roll out of the awareness campaign. Then, at graduation, they become certified as Freedom Leaders by Walk Free as a certified trainer. When they go to a college campus, they then are able to start the same initiative on campus."
Another part of the last nine weeks requires students to make a statement to the world.
"One of the things students do is the Red Sand Project," Howell said. "We mobilized our whole school last year. You go to a place where there are sidewalks and you fill the cracks with red sand to indicate that we are not going to let people fall through the cracks of human slavery."
The project was started by artist Molly Gochman. More information about the Red Sand Project can be found at her website www.mollygochman.com
Howell added she has heard from two of her graduated students.
"The first day of school at Ivy Tech this year, two of my students showed up with their anti-slavery T-shirts on and said they were going to get it going," Howell said.
The model has also been used to educate adult leaders.
"This past summer, I taught a class to adult leaders on human trafficking using the program model," Howell said. "We had people from Belize, Virginia and all over Indiana attend. We had youth leaders, teachers, principals and non-profit people that came together to learn about human trafficking."
Along with allowing Howell to develop the program, the grant funding allowed her to work on getting her spiritual direction license.
"I'm also a pastor," Howell said. "I don't lead a congregation, I lead a non-profit organization in Central America where I have seen with my own eyes and helped to rescue students that have been victimized. I went to school to get my spiritual direction license so I would know how to be able to work with survivors and have discussions with them that would lead to their healing."
Howell added she is still in the process of getting the license but spent some time over the summer at Billy Graham's retreat center going through classes.
The desire to spread the word about human trafficking came from seeing the impacts while in Central America.
"There were young people there that I knew personally that it bothered me then, but I didn't know what to do about it because like almost everybody else, you think to yourself, 'I'm only one person, what can I possibly do?'" Howell said. "I think for all of us, the biggest thing we can do is be aware."
Howell has been a supporter of End Crowd for three or four years.
"I thought I was doing enough by doing that, and then when I realized I could put it into my classroom, and then when the grant happened it's like it keeps mushrooming," Howell said. "I'm so thankful I've been able to do those things. But if people just knew, that would be the first step. If I didn't take the time to educate myself, I wouldn't have been able to do any more.
"Here's what I believe about human trafficking: If I tell you about human trafficking, now you know. You can't un-know."
According to WRV superintendent Bob Hacker, the course was a "tremendous experience."
"After educating the students on human trafficking and its effects on our local and state communities, the kids really took the story to our community. They shared their knowledge with our students and schools in the county with the Red Sand Project and gained valuable experiences in addressing a global issue with area civic, church and law enforcement groups," Hacker said.
School Board president Jason Davidson added the course is great teaching at work.
"We are really working on trying to make our student experiences relevant to 'real world' experiences," Davidson said. "This is great teaching at work in an area that's relevant to the world in which we live."
Hacker added one of the school goals was teaching a relevant curriculum.
"This program and Mrs. Howell's work is a shining example of that goal at work in the lives of our students," Hacker said.
Howell says when it comes to human trafficking, nobody can be naive.
"It's in our back yard, it's all around us," Howell said. "Human trafficking is connected to every industry you touch, and we need to get smart about it."
For more information about End Crowd and the work the group does, visit www.endcrowd.org. If any organization is interested in hearing this year's student group, email Howell at firstname.lastname@example.org.