For some of the students it was their first time traveling out of Alaska, flying on an airplane and working with kids from other countries throughout the world.
Sixteen Soldotna Montessori Charter School fifth and sixth graders recently traveled to the Montessori Model United Nations conference for upper elementary students held in New York City.
Working toward the opportunity to experience those firsts was time consuming and hard, students said.
Students had to win a spot to the conference by writing a persuasion paper. This year’s topic was school uniforms. Students had to choose whether they were for or against uniforms and explain their reasons.
After being selected, students had to research and write about their countries and topics. Sixth grader Morgan Reynolds said they each did at least an extra hour of work on their U.N. topics in addition to regular homework every night.
Teachers John DeVolld, Terri Carter and Matt Faris chose countries based on the number of delegates. They selected Zimbabwe, Chad and Sierra Leone — all African nations.
Each student was assigned to a different committee such as the Human Rights Council, U.N. International Children’s Emergency Fund, Economic and Social Council and U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Within their committees the students worked on topics including freedom of religion, childhood obesity, children in armed conflict, child labor, internally displaced people and indigenous people.
Carter said the topics the kids researched are “really harsh realities” of today’s world.
DeVolld said much of the information the students researched is at a higher comprehension level than they’re used to processing. And trying to grasp their country’s position on an issue can be a challenge.
The students agreed writing their position papers about their topics was hardest part of the entire experience.
“It was just having to find all the research for it and then being able to put it together in the right order,” sixth grader Shannon McClure said.
“If you don’t really know (your topic) good in the very beginning, it makes it a lot tougher,” sixth grader MaCady Musgrave said. “Once you start knowing it better it gets a lot easier.”
In addition to learning about their different countries, committees and topics, the students also had to raise money to attend the conference. They collectively auctioned off items and also raised money individually.
“I mowed a lot of lawns,” sixth grader Spencer Mize said.
The students, their teachers and chaperones left on April 5 and returned on April 14.
“We were planning the whole time where we were going to go in New York and then it actually happened and I was like, ‘Oh wait we’re actually doing this,’” sixth grader Morgan Reynolds said about the experience.
“It felt like it was a dream,” fifth grader Macie Schroeder said.
The conference took place during a four-day period at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott Hotel and the U.N. Headquarters.
Each committee handled two topics and the students had to write resolutions for the topics and then vote on those resolutions.
Sixth grader Judd Miller said the best part of the conference was meeting other kids from all around the world. About 800 students total attended Model U.N.
“There’s people from China and Australia and South America and all over Europe,” Judd said.
Many of the students exchanged email addresses to stay in contact with the kids they met at the conference.
Macie said some of the kids from other regions asked “the strangest questions” of the Soldotna students.
“A kid asked me was it the first time I wore short sleeves,” Macie said.
Fifth grader Payton Story said another student asked him how he survived Alaskan winters.
When the students weren’t busy solving global issues, they took in the sights and cultural offerings of the city including the Statue of Liberty, Elis Island, Central Park, Federal Hall, Times Square, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Bridge.
“Compared to Seattle or Anchorage or somewhere like that it was a real shock,” Shannon said about seeing the city.
Before beginning their research for the conference, many of the students said they weren’t sure what the U.N.’s responsibilities were or that some of the world issues existed.
But now, after the conference, they find themselves paying attention to the goings-on in other countries.
“I’m sure a lot of us find ourselves listening to the news a lot more than usual, too,” fifth grader Kaegan Koski said.
All the students agreed that the effort was worth it.
“Not every kid gets to go to New York,” Spencer said.