Model United Nations Conference helps middle school students learn about global issues
By Amelia Turbyfill, communications intern, School of Education
April 15, 2010
The first ever Chapel Hill/Carrboro Model United Nations Middle School Conference was held on April 9 at the Carolina Center for Educational Excellence, an off-campus facility of the School of Education. One hundred twenty middle school students gathered to participate in a day-long conference on the topic of Iranian nuclear development. The students were from all four middle schools in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School district. Two students from Durham Academy participated as guests.
The conference began with a welcoming ceremony led by Björn Hennings, director of the Carolina Center for Education Excellence and one of the organizers of the event. Other speakers included Denise Bowling, assistant superintendent for instructional services of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School district, Bill McDiarmid, dean of the School of Education, and Pal Palmore, president of the West Triangle Chapter of the United Nations Association-USA.
The speakers encouraged the students to learn about the way problems are solved in a global society, and to discover new ways of interacting and communicating in an effort to co-exist peacefully with others. McDiarmid also shared personal stories of his experience with the Model United Nations Club when he was an undergraduate at UNC-Chapel Hill. “This conference will help you understand the world from someone else’s perspective,” said McDiarmid. “Take this as an opportunity to walk the world in someone else’s shoes.”
Model United Nations (Model UN) is a simulation of the United Nations that aims to help students learn how problems are solved in a global society. Students assume the roles of foreign diplomats and participate in a simulated session of UN proceedings on an assigned topic. As ambassadors for their country, student delegates make speeches, prepare draft resolutions, negotiate with allies and adversaries, and resolve conflicts in an attempt to develop a resolution that is agreed upon by all the countries.
The middle school students were divided into teams of two and took on the role of delegates of their assigned country. They represented the 15 current members of the UN Security Council: Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, China, France, Gabon, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Turkey, Uganda, United Kingdom and United States.
Four Security Councils met simultaneously. They were chaired by eight officers of the Model UN Clubs at Chapel Hill-Carrboro high schools, two board members of the West Triangle Chapter of UNA-USA and two members of the UNC-Chapel Hill Model UN Club.
In the weeks leading up to the Model UN Conference, the students studied the culture, politics and economy of their assigned country in order to understand the country’s position on Iranian nuclear development.
“I really liked the preliminary research we did on our country before coming to the conference,” said Shelby Boast, a seventh-grade student from Smith Middle School representing China. “I learned so much, now during the debate I actually feel like I am from China!”
At the beginning of the Security Council meetings, the student delegates presented the position of their country on Iranian nuclear development. During an unmoderated caucus, the delegates were free to move around the room and communicate openly with other countries in an attempt to form partnerships and draft resolutions with like-minded delegations. Moderated caucuses allowed the students to participate in formalized debate where they could present resolution ideas and amendments.
“I like how we get to debate with other students and see how people think differently and represent their countries,” said Brandon Nickerson, an eighth-grade student from McDougle Middle School representing Brazil.
The goal of the day was for each Security Council to pass a resolution. Three of the groups agreed upon and signed a resolution, and one group reached an impasse, unable to pass either of the two resolutions they developed during the day.
“The first Middle School Model UN Conference was a great success,” said Hennings. “The conference addressed several 21st-century learning goals at once, including writing skills, speaking skills, conflict resolution and knowledge of geography.”
The conference was organized by the UNC-Chapel Hill Model UN Club in cooperation with the School of Education, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and the West Triangle Chapter of the United Nations Association.
According to Hennings, another Middle School Model UN conference is being planned for next spring. It will be organized in conjunction with local high school Model UN clubs as well as teachers at Chapel Hill-Carrboro middle schools.