Over 500 young people attended the UNA-USA's (United Nations Association of the United States of America) Global Classrooms Chicago Model United Nations Conference Friday, April 27 at Hermann Hall in the Illinois Institute of Technology. Students from Chicago Public Schools represented 11 elementary schools and 13 high schools from across the city. Three local non-profit organizations--the University of Chicago Collegiate Scholars, Passport Carriers, and the Chicago Commons--also participated in the program. This year, CPS celebrated 10 years of the program running in Chicago, and CPS Chief Instructional Officer Jennifer Cheatham accepted an award on behalf of CPS.
Keynote speaker Gillian Sorensen, Senior Advisor at the United Nations Foundation, spoke to the audience on the importance of a global mindset. She encouraged delegates not just to compete for points but to try to truly understand each other’s perspectives when consensus-building.
Model United Nations (UN) challenges kids to think like real UN ambassadors by working collaboratively to solve complex global conflicts on topics ranging from technology to human rights. Students represent the multifaceted interests of 193 UN member states as they negotiate with allies and adversaries alike to draft resolutions that address pressing contemporary issues on the UN agenda. By role-playing the position of UN ambassadors, Model UN exposes students to many perspectives on many international concerns—such as terrorism, child labor and exploitation, refugee resettlement, sustainable development and climate change—that are of concern to young people worldwide.
The annual Model UN conference is the culminating event of a larger international education program designed for middle school and high school students called Global Classrooms. Using this curriculum, students develop research, writing, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Global Classrooms is the only comprehensive program of study and instruction based on Model UN.
Nicholas Senn High School teacher Louise Mandelman took a special group of students to the Model UN conference this year. All of the students in her class are English Language Learners (ELL), so they represent a wide range of ethnicities. She noted, “I commend them for all their hard work at the Model UN this year. English is not their first language, so it’s nerve-wracking for them to get up and speak publicly like that. It takes a lot of courage, and they did a great job.” She went on to say, “This experience really helped prepare them for college in the sense that they got to go around and collaborate and interact with kids that are not bilingual.”
Portier T. is a junior in Ms. Mandelman’s social studies class, and one of 12 students to attend the Model UN conference from Senn High School this year. She described the process for drafting a resolution. She and her classmates were in the World Health Organization Committee. As a group, they did careful research to write a position paper on tuberculosis and malaria before presenting their ideas on how to curtail these infectious diseases at the conference. Portier won an honorable mention for Best Delegate for her diplomacy representing the country of Liberia.
Portier really enjoyed her experience with the Model UN this year. She said, “It was so interesting! I presented in front of a lot of people, and it was hard sometimes when I didn’t know how to answer their questions. But I learned so much, and I met lots of other kids from different schools. I learned how to be a leader and how to work together to solve problems. It was a lot of fun!”
Mirian M. is a 7th grader at Rachel Carson Elementary School who participated in Global Classrooms through an afterschool program led by World Language teacher Mario Aragon. Her group represented the interests of Ecuador at the conference. Through their research, the delegates found that access to public services was inequitable for refugees in Ecuador. Their resolution was to build more schools and hospitals for refugees to improve their quality of life.
No matter how fair and well-researched a resolution is, it’s never easy for 193 nations with vastly different agendas to come to an understanding on any given issue. Mirian described the difficulties of consensus-building: “The most challenging aspect of it was to get people to agree on something. There were three separate groups making alliances and they all had different interests. It was tough to convince people of your side of the argument. I think that it made us better at persuading people. In the end, I think we came to a good resolution that helped a lot of people.”
Mirian emphasized that, overall, Model UN was a lot of fun. She said, “I met a lot of other kids, and shared with them. We learned how debate works, and we all learned a lot about different countries around the world. I’m excited to do it again next year!”