Students from the Vineyard Montessori School got a chance to participate in the Montessori Model United Nations (MMUN) program at the United Nations (U.N.) headquarters in Manhattan.
MMUN provides the opportunity for kids ages 9 to 15 to learn about different cultures and peoples, and hone research, communication, writing, and speaking skills by role-playing as U.N. delegates.
Students chose or were assigned a topic from one of the 17 sustainable development goals outlined in the 2030 agenda that was adopted by the General Assembly in 2015. These goals included zero hunger, gender equality, and affordable and clean energy.
Each student was assigned a country that he or she would represent at the conference and the summit, and placed on a committee that deals with current issues in the world.
The kids studied for months to prepare for the conference, researching the core elements of international relations, and delving endlessly into their individual countries.
They wrote position papers on their topics, which presented a certain stance on an issue, and outlined possible solutions.
At the outset of the conference, which took place at a hotel nearby the U.N. General Assembly, students walked around and negotiated draft resolutions with other delegates of various countries. Each student made a poster with information, pictures, and statistics on their country for other delegates to look at and ask questions.
One eighth grader from the Vineyard Montessori School, Matthew Coggins, went to the conference for his fourth year in a row to present his topic on the prohibition of dumping of radioactive wastes.
He represented the Democratic Republic of Congo, and sat on the committee of Disarmament and International Security.
Matthew didn’t have a partner for the conference, so he decided to double down on his presentation and also present the topic of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.
Only a few people from each committee are chosen to speak at the general assembly, and this past year was Matthew’s second time being picked.
Those who are chosen to speak at the summit are voted on by their colleagues to be the most unifying, motivating force in the group.
“Every year the experience is something new — it is very special and unique, and I think we are very lucky to get to participate,” Matthew said.
Matthew explained how some delegates had good ideas, but if you are dominating the entire discussion and don’t encourage others to voice their beliefs and concerns, then you probably aren’t the right person to speak at the podium.
“You have to be careful at the conference not to be the one who is claiming your ideas and making it all about you, because delegates are supposed to think and act as a country, not just as individuals,” Matthew said. “The U.N. focuses on committees coming to a consensus, so you might have to compromise if your views are different from other delegates.”
Another Vineyard Montessori student, sixth grader Carly Coggins, went to MMUN for her third year, and for the first time was chosen to speak at the summit in the General Assembly.
Carly sat on the Special Political Decolonization Committee of the Republic of Vanuatu, and her topic was international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.
She said one of her favorite things about MMUN is seeing kids from all over the world discuss real-world topics and come to resolutions.
“It’s pretty cool to see kids from Africa, Asia, and places all over the world work together,” Carly said. “Because you can’t just write resolutions on what you think, you have to work with others the whole time.”
Vineyard Montessori sixth grader Gracie Coggins said it was enjoyable for her to start out knowing nothing about her topic, the implementation of the declaration on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples (quite a mouthful), to being an expert by the end of the conference. Gracie represented the Republic of Vanuatu alongside her twin sister.
“You learn so much about your topic after researching it for so long, then you get to share your ideas with other delegates, which is really cool,” Gracie said.
The MMUN program doesn’t just teach kids about how the U.N. operates on a global stage, it encourages them to get involved in their community and facilitate actual positive change.
Carly described the formality and stringent nature of writing position papers and resolution documents, which introduced students to the reality of writing official documents.
“You can’t have any spelling or grammar errors, and each section has to be laid out in the right format,” Carly said.
Gracie added that many of the position papers are not accepted if there are significant spelling, grammar, or organizational errors, but none of the Vineyard kids’ papers were rejected this year.
Arin Atema, a fifth grader at Vineyard Montessori School, said the MMUN conference was a deciding factor in why he chose to attend the school. “I was homeschooled before I came to the Montessori School, but when I saw the stuff about the MMUN, I knew I wanted to go there,” Arin said.
Arin represented the Republic of Malta, and sat on the Disarmament and International Security committee alongside his colleague Matthew.
One of the things Arin said is his favorite about MMUN is getting to be a part of something bigger than just individual needs or wants, and promoting the well-being of a greater good: “One kid at the conference kept saying ‘I’ when he spoke about solutions to problems, but we have to represent our country, so we need to use the word ‘we’ instead.”
The entire experience allowed students to be cognizant of important issues in the world and find ways of addressing them on their own time.
Gracie said MMUN taught her about human rights, which she believes is one of the major issues plaguing the world.
“People should be able to do what they want, and right now there are lots of things holding people back from achieving their goals,” Gracie said.
Arin said his main focus after the summit is climate change, and how to spread sustainable life practices across the world.
“The summit really inspired me to focus on big problems,” Arin said. “Someday I want to make a nonprofit company to fight climate change and habitat destruction.”
All the students agreed that being in the General Assembly of the U.N. and learning about so many different things was a defining moment in their lives that has provided invaluable insight into themselves and the world.
“Speaking at the U.N. was the biggest moment of my life, and I am excited to go back next year,” Arin said.
Watch the entire summit here, recorded live on the U.N. Web TV page.