UNA-USA Helps Today’s Student Become Tomorrow’s Global Citizen
On a recent Saturday morning, over 1,000 students gave up their regular weekend activities to emulate United Nations delegates. Hailing from 56 schools from various U.S. states, as well as Ghana, Italy, Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates, they gathered at the United Nations to participate in the New York City Middle School Model UN Conference. Their mission: to represent a foreign country and debate topics such as global warming, the eradication of poverty, the illicit trade of light weapons, and other pressing global issues.
Sponsored by the United Nations Association of the USA, in partnership with Merrill Lynch, the Middle School Model UN Conference is unique as the largest international conference of its kind. Its purpose is to engage students in knowledge- and skill-building exercises that will foster their development as informed, global citizens. “It’s not just about the UN, it’s about communication and being able to tackle issues from another perspective,” explained Amy E. Ruggiero, Global Classrooms® Manager of External Relations in describing the benefits of the program.
Prior to attending the Model UN conference, students spend months researching their assigned country and learning about their country’s stance on an issue. Teachers praise the conference for its emphasis on problem-solving, analytical thinking, and social studies. “One of my students is very passionate about the environment and when he represented the Czech Republic, he had a hard time defending his country’s viewpoint that environmental issues are a myth. This is a great program because it challenges kids to consider other views and put themselves in someone else’s shoes,” said Kim Kay Holt, Founder and Co-Director of Arlington Enrichment Collaborative, a middle school in Massachusetts.
As social studies classes take a backseat to standardized tests, oftentimes students and teachers must meet after school to take advantage of the Global Classrooms® curriculum. Needless to say, it also requires dedication to overcome the challenges of meeting outside of regular school hours. “I have no problems raising funds, but having the time to teach after school is not easy,” commented Mary Susan Heath, a language arts teacher from Eastern Wayne Middle School in New Jersey.
Despite the obstacles to forming a class, more schools continue to take part in the conference, which has grown from about 200 student participants in its first year to over 1,000 students. “It is becoming more like a movement each year,” noted Liza Rojas-Alford, Global Classrooms National Manager. “It is important that we reach out to students who aren’t exposed to ideas outside of their towns or what their parents say and give them an opportunity to think for themselves.”
Convincing middle school students to grapple with global issues may seem overly ambitious, but students are eager to reap the benefits of Global Classrooms®. “Now I can talk about things that my parents are talking about,” explained Ian Freed, an eighth grader from the World Journalism Preparatory School in New York City who represented Thailand in a debate on Malaria, TB, and Infections Diseases. “The more research we do, the more we want to know how we can help,” added Alexandra Karras, who is also an eighth grader from World Journalism Preparatory School.#