Ten members of Inly’s Model UN team hit the Big Apple in March, well prepared to debate current international issues with fellow Montessori middle school students from across the US. Representing Mexico and Croatia, the Inly delegates spent three days at the Montessori Model UN conference (MMUN), the third annual event of its kind. They presented and debated their own position papers, and represented their nations in council sessions and in front of the MMUN General Assembly.
About Model UN
In Model UN, students step into the shoes of ambassadors from UN member states to debate current issues on the organization’s agenda. While playing their roles as ambassadors, student delegates make speeches, prepare draft resolutions, negotiate with allies and adversaries, resolve conflicts, and navigate the Model UN conference rules of procedure—all in the interest of mobilizing “international cooperation” to resolve problems that affect countries all over the world.
It not only involves young people in the study and discussion of global issues, but also encourages the development of skills useful throughout their lives, such as research, writing, public speaking, problem solving, consensus building, conflict resolution and compromise and cooperation.
It took the Inly team 8–10 weeks to prepare, with two-hour after-school meetings once a week, plus a good deal of extra independent work. “When they were choosing to do this, they knew it was like adding an extra class,” explains Tschol Slade, middle school history teacher who helps lead the group.
“There’s lots of writing—students write position papers for each topic and have to distill all of their research into one page. The research they’re doing is pretty sophisticated. They use books for background research and the Internet for current events. But then they’re also using primary source documents and white papers—it’s dense information.”
“Having the opportunity to learn that deep about a country is a really valuable experience. They have to be experts in their own country and yet also really familiar with what’s going on in the rest of the world. It’s about depth and breadth at the same time.”
Tschol Slade and Julie Kelly-Detwiler accompanied the 7th and 8th graders on the trip, along with Inly parent Bill Dana.
This was Tschol’s second year attending Model UN with the Inly Middle School. Although he served as a chaperone, he points out that because he and Julie helped to run the conference this year, the kids were charged with an extra degree of autonomy. “Just traveling around New York City at this age…the independence they have to show and the maturity is pretty remarkable.”
“Small things are huge when you’re on your own like this for the first time,” he remarks. “Like planning a budget, figuring out how to spend your own money…knowing that you can’t spend $30 on a T-shirt you find in a rest stop in Connecticut because you have to eat four days from now… figuring out how early you have to get up in the morning so everyone in the room can have a shower and get to breakfast on time.”
“There’s a motivation in doing something authentic,” explains Tschol. “It’s different than practicing in the classroom. At Model UN they’re using the actual protocols that delegates need to follow with the real UN, and the moderators in the committees are adults they don’t know. So there’s a level of formality that wouldn’t exist with their peers.
“You can’t say ‘I’ – you say, ‘the republic of Croatia believes…’ You refer to the moderator as ‘Honorable Chair’ and you refer to the other delegates as ‘the delegate from…’”
Tschol sees the value of the experience first-hand. “I’ve seen an increased interest in current events. It’s often hard for students to understand the news because there’s so much of it and it’s so complicated. This experience gives them a place to start when reading the newspaper. It gives them a context to get started, so they know the right questions to ask.”
“What’s great about this program is that it has both the academic rigor and the sense of community—these two things are not either/or; with Model UN it’s about both.”
We asked a couple of students to report on their experience:
Phoebe, grade 7
What was your area of focus?
My country was Croatia, and my topic was human rights and the employment of child soldiers.
Did you know much about Croatia before you started Model U.N.?
I had never thought Croatia was a very important country. I actually never gave it much thought. But I really enjoyed learning about it and learning all about its history, and about the war with Yugoslavia. Now I think of it as a much more important country in the world. It’s really very interesting. And I’ve been able to make some interesting connections with what we’ve been studying in history class.
Was the experience at Model U.N. what you expected?
It was definitely what I expected because we learned all about it in advance. We re-enacted what one of the sessions would look like and spent lots of time preparing beforehand.
Was there anything that surprised you?
Yes – when we went into the actual room at the U.N.—the General Assembly—and they had a whole panel of officials there. I thought there would only be one!
What was your favorite part about New York City?
Going to Shrek the Musical. It was an amazing performance, and Julie’s [Julie Kelly-Detwiler’s] cousin was Shrek, so we got to go backstage and get a behind-the-scenes tour.
What was the best part of the overall experience?
Getting to know our classmates better – from the after-school meetings for two months before and then traveling together and being together constantly.
Did you have time to meet many new kids from other schools?
Oh definitely. I met kids from Illinois and Arizona, and from California, Oregon and Washington. We all got each other’s phone numbers and emails and definitely want to keep in touch. They were all really nice, really friendly…and since we’re all from Montessori schools we have a similar learning style and we have something in common.
Tommy, grade 8
Last year your team represented the United States. How was it different, representing a small country like Croatia?
There were pros and cons with each. With a bigger country, like America, you have a bigger voice and you also have veto power. When you’re a smaller country, like Croatia, it’s harder to be heard. You need to depend on the bigger countries, but the bigger countries kind of ignore you. But on the other hand, as a smaller country you can voice your opinion more radically than a larger country because you don’t have to be as careful.
Careful about what?
Well, about alliances with other big countries. Last year when we were the United States and dealing with the crisis in Darfur, we had to be careful about criticizing China’s relationship with Darfur too strongly because we didn’t want to damage our own trading relationship with China.
What did you learn from the experience?
The whole experience helped me better understand someone else’s point of view. I’ve learned how to find compromise and I’ve become more empathetic with what other people are trying to do
What would you say were the best parts of the experience?
I’d say the lively debates, the great sense of teamwork, and the experience traveling around New York City.
How was your second year compared to your first year at MMUN?
From year one to year two, I think I grew in my ability to listen and to understand and to debate. That year of experience helped me to know what to expect and to know what you need to do to be successful.
Would you like to do Model UN or something similar in high school?
Yes, definitely. There’s a Model UN club at Milton and they have a great team. I’m definitely going to pursue that. [Tommy will be a freshman at Milton Academy next year.]
Any advice for classmates going to Model UN for the first time next year?
Don’t over pack; be prepared; make sure you’ve explored your topic; and keep an open mind.