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Original article can be found at the Inly News & Events archives page.

Inly to Represent South Africa at Model UN

February 15, 2007

Twelve well-prepared students from Inly Middle School will travel to New York City on March 1 to represent South Africa at the first-ever Montessori Model UN. Along with roughly 400 students from some 70 other Montessori schools across the U.S., our team will devote three days to intensive discussion and debate on international relations.

Upon arrival in New York, the Inly team will join counterparts from other schools and then split into the following designated groups:

1. Security Council
2. UNESCO (the United Nations Social, Cultural and Educational Organization)
3. ECOSOC (the Economic and Social Council)
4. General Assembly

The Security Council will debate issues surrounding peacekeeping in Sudan and nuclear proliferation on the Korean Peninsula; UNESCO will cover rights of children and the culture of peace; ECOSOC will focus on climate change as well as access to fresh water; and the General Assembly will tackle the Millennium Development Goals.

Prep Time
To prepare for the conference next month, Team Inly has been meeting as a Model UN club once a week after school with Julie and Tschol, and doing extra research during independent work time periods during the regular school week, as well as at home. “It’s been a lot of extra work,” explains Lindsay Silver, the 8th grade leader of Inly’s UNESCO group, “mainly because the research is so difficult. We need to cross-reference constantly, to make sure our sources are accurate. And there’s plenty of information on the Internet, but it’s mainly from the American perspective and we need information from the South African perspective. What we really need is ‘inside information’—so for instance next week we’ve scheduled a time to speak on the phone with the Permanent Mission of South Africa, which is in New York.”

“To me, the hardest part is that we have to know every country’s position on South Africa,” says Hannah Kaplan-Hartlaub, co-leader of the Security Council. “Of course I knew we’d need to know what South Africa’s position is on every country, but we also need information the other way around–every country’s position on South Africa.”

“Also, since I’m on the Security Council, we’ve been told we need to keep up to date on all that’s going on in our country and in the world, in case there’s a crisis. The good thing is, after all this extensive research, now when you read the newspaper you actually know what they’re talking about.”

General Assembly member Ricky Housley says the hardest part has been finding countries’ positions on issues. “You want to know how they really feel about issues and their stance on these topics, but often they won’t state their positions in official documents. For instance, some countries are extremists about AIDs and don’t want to help, whereas others will. We need to figure out how to find this information.”

Practice like you play
As soon as they convene each week, students are expected to get into their roles immediately. “You practice like you play, you get into character and stay in character,” says Tschol Slade, MS history teacher. “You monitor each other, study independently and study together, and every kid has to pull their own weight.”

“It’s really just an extension of what students do here every day: problem-solving, consensus-building, working on solutions that are win-win rather than win-lose,” Tschol explains. “In History we’re focusing on World War I and World War II, looking at different models of conflict resolution. And in Life Skills we’re doing the same thing with different models of conflict resolution, but within our own community.”

“During our teacher training session [for Model UN] we talked a lot about the paradigm shift that’s taken place, looking at how the world has changed from a win-lose Cold War model,” adds MS director Julie Kelly-Detwiler. “Now the model is all about interconnectedness—which is how we approach History and Cultural Studies at Inly anyway. So the Model UN is actually a very natural fit with our curriculum. And it’s authentic learning, which is what we’re all about.”

Next steps
Next week the Model UN members will be busy consolidating all their research and writings into one hefty position paper, which must by filed by February 21. They’ll be working over the weekend and all next week to nail down details, fill in gaps, and write and edit their respective contributions. “You need to be experts on South Africa,” stressed Julie at today’s meeting. “What resolutions are they signatories of? You need to know all the resolutions—the Kyoto Accord, Rights of the Child, ballistic missiles, every single one and where they stand. You need to know the current status and past history of every subject area. That is your job.”

It is also their job to memorize the correct terminology to be used while “in session.” Next week, after being coached in debate skills and diplomat speak, the students will begin mock sessions with Julie and Tschol.

Skills for high school and beyond
The high-level research, analysis, writing, and debate skills gained through the Model UN are immensely valuable preparation for high school and beyond. As Security Council co-leader Paul Kelly puts it: “The research has been tough—sometimes you find too much on a topic, sometimes too little. But I’ve learned how to find good, legitimate sources, like the official websites for the Zimbabwe Liberation Movement and groups within the Chinese government, and to try to sort through all the politics. It’s all been a good experience, especially for high school. I want to be on the debate team and also join the Model UN club when I go to high school, and this is giving me a taste for what it will be like.”