Soldotna Montessori students Celestina Castro, Megan English, Carolyn Sisson and Danny Schaeffer prepare for a session in the United Nations chambers.
A deleg ation of students from Soldotna Montessori Charter School recently participated in a model United Nations program.
The 18 students flew to New York and sat in the same chambers used by the U.N. They spent months studying the nations they represented, writing position papers and developing resolutions --some of which were presented to the U.N. Secretary General.
What they learned from the experience is that a group of kids from Soldotna, Alaska, has the potential to make a difference in the world.
“It’s not a question of if we can do it; it’s a question of if we care enough,” said Juliet Bramante, a student delegate from the school.
Soldotna Montessori students began their research last November after teacher Cheryl Romatz accepted an invitation to the program, sponsored by Montessori schools and run by Pace University.
The 18 Soldotna Montessori students were selected for the trip based on results of a persuasive essay writing contest.
Those persuasive writing skills were important once students got to the U.N. building as passing resolutions had as persuasion was an important part of diplomacy. Student delegates had to convince their colleagues not only of the merits of their resolutions, but also of the potential benefits to the various countries they were representing.
“We had a pretty easy time convincing people -- it’s just picking the right ones to convince,” Bramante said.
Students said that while their topics might have seemed like causes around which the world could rally -- ending poverty and hunger, alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Sudan, ensuring children receive basic schooling, nutrition and medical care -- they found that most countries would only act on an issue if it was in their own self-interest to do so.
“It was super-hard in the Security Council to get them to agree with you,” said Fletcher Iverson, a student delegate.
“You can’t have your opinion; it has to be what our country (Pakistan) would do,” said delegate Natalie Chennault.
“The hardest part was getting all the kids together, talking about what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it,” said student delegate Leah Reed.
In writing their position papers for the conference, students had to a learn a great deal about things going on in the world that elementary-school students in Soldotna might otherwise be sheltered from.
“I kind of don’t like knowing what’s going on. ... It makes me scared,” said Kelty Fair, also a student delegate.
“I thought it was a good learning experience. It really gives us a big picture of what the world is,” said student delegate Megan English.
“I watch the news about twice as much now,” said student delegate Caitlin Steinbeck.
While in New York, students also visited the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Central Park and the World Trade Center site.
Terri Carter, a teacher at Soldotna Montessori who made the trip, said she was most impressed by with the way in which the school’s delegates stood out among their peers at the conference.
“When they were there, one of the things all of the parents and teachers stood in amazement at, was how they performed compared to kids their age. They were incredibly well-prepared, very able, and they emerged as leaders in the process,” Carter said.
Carter said students from Soldotna Montessori felt, on some level, that they would be up against other students who were somehow better prepared or smarter.
In fact, Carter said, many Montessori schools are private schools, and many of those that participated hired professional consultants to help them prepare.
Romatz attended a short workshop at the U.N. last fall, but the Soldotna Montessori delegation’s preparations were done on their own, with some guidance via e-mail but mostly a lot of hard work and research.
“I think there was a lot of excitement when they found they were on equal footing and able to hold their own in the midst of all those capable kids,” Carter said.
“It was a pretty exciting thing to see they could have influence and sway.”
Students said that while preparing for the conference took a great deal of time and effort, the experience of sitting in the United Nations General Assembly chambers, and debating and passing resolutions that were presented to the U.N. Secretary General made the experience worthwhile.
“Because we went to the U.N., we studied so much and learned so much. In the next three years of my life, I won’t learn that much,” Iverson said.
“It was a lot of logistics and an incredible amount of planning, but no simulation can replace actually being there and sitting in the chairs where the actual delegates sit,” Carter said.
Will Morrow can be reached at email@example.com.
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