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Excellence in humanitarian issues

Superior High School senior Elizabeth Tran, left, and SHS Amnesty International Club adviser Mary Anderson-Petroske set up letters for students to sign in the high school lunch room Nov. 3. The club earned a regional award for work students did during their inaugural year, 2016-2017. Maria Lockwood

Superior High School's Amnesty International Club earned the Midwest Regional Excellence Award for its work during the 2016-2017 school year, the club's first.

"They've been really wonderful," said Khalil "Haji" Dokhanchi, who runs the Amnesty International group at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. "It was well-deserved. It shows you if you work hard and get involved, people recognize it."

Adviser Mary Anderson-Petroske launched the SHS club last fall. It consists of "16 enthusiastic, wonderful human beings," she said, and they are not resting on their laurels.

On Nov. 3, members set up a table in the high school lunchroom, circulating letters for peers to sign. Everyone who signed got a treat.

"Here's a Lifesaver for being a lifesaver," said junior Dezaray Haeberling.

The letters requested human rights for a Russian girl who was imprisoned for posting stories of lesbian, gay, bi, transgender and queer issues on social media, and for the end of a campaign of violence against the Rohingya Muslims in the state of Myanmar.

Amnesty International members walked through the lunch room, stopping by tables and explaining the issues.

"They're advocating for others with their peers and practicing that advocacy at such a young age," Anderson-Petroske said.

Haeberling said she joined the group last year to "stick up and help people who are struggling and their rights are being violated."

It's hard to see some of the things happening in the world, she said, but club members are resolved to do something about it.

"Knowing we're here, we're able to be the voice for them, is a good feeling," Haeberling said.

Once every few months, the group sets up their table of letters. Dokhanchi then sends them overseas.

"I think it just shows you that when you empower students you can do a lot of good things," said Dokhanchi, a political science professor. "A 17-year-old is not powerless. They can use their pen to affect something across the world."

Not every student chooses to sign the letter, but they are given the opportunity.

"The majority of people are willing to sign and they're really good about it," once students explain the letters, said junior Lora Randa, president of the club.

Last year, the club also hosted a public screening of the film "Girl Rising" at UWS for Day of the Woman. It was one of the things Randa stressed when she nominated the group for the Midwest award.

Superior School Board Vice President Christina Kintop said the film was very powerful and moving, and the students were passionate.

"I don't think there was a dry eye in the house," Kintop said during a recap of district highlights at the Nov. 6 school board meeting. "It made myself and my daughters who were with me understand the importance of education, especially for women."

The SHS Amnesty International Club plans to hold a similar event this school year, and may try to bring other meaningful events, such as being refugee for 30 minutes or a Red Cross refugee simulator, to their peers.

Whether they nab another award or not, they plan to keep speaking out and advocating for others.

"Once you put yourself out there, you're out there," said junior Truc Nguyen, vice president of the club. "And you just do your best."

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