Middle school students explore the world through Model United Nations program

Participants in the Southeast Alabama Model United Nations Assembly await the opportunity to ask questions about a pending resolution.

Participants in the Southeast Alabama Model United Nations Assembly await the opportunity to ask questions about a pending resolution.

Elijah Griffith pleaded his case for assistance with the educational needs in Ethiopia, presenting his well-honed speech and awaiting questions from the assembly.

It was a scene that played out several times over the two-day Southeast Alabama Model United Nations Assembly at the Troy Campus last week as more than 100 middle school students took on the roles of leaders from countries throughout the world.

“We have literally been working on this resolution and speech since November,” said Griffith, a student from Dothan’s Carver Magnet School. “You are nervous when you get up there, reading the speech that you have been preparing for months. It was difficult, but at the same time, I really enjoyed it.”

The annual event was hosted by the Southeast Alabama Regional Inservice Center with funding provided from the Alabama Department of Education and the Wiregrass Writing Project. Participants have the opportunity to experience the United Nations first-hand with each delegation representing a different nation and deciding important issues that affect the world.

“It helps the students with communication skills,” said Margaret Folmar, program development teacher consultant for the Southeast Alabama Regional Inservice Center. “It helps them to understand other countries and how other people live and what they wear. It also enables them to learn about social problems that are faced by others and teaches them to be more open-minded about the issues other countries face rather than focusing solely on their own country.”

Aside from those benefits, the Model U.N. also serves a competition.

“During the summer, we have a workshop for teachers that helps them learn how to prepare a team for the Model United Nations,” said Dr. Robyn Bynum, executive director of educational outreach for TROY’s College of Education. “In early November, these students begin working on their resolutions. Once submitted, a resolution book goes out to all the teams. When they come here, they are prepared and able to ask those clarifying questions and determine whether or not to support each resolution. The schools are constantly looking for programs that will engage teachers, and, in turn, engage students. The Model UN program has been recognized nationally for all the benefits it provides to students who participate.”

Bynum said the program ultimately assists students in developing skills that will serve them well throughout their educational careers and beyond.

“If we can get them interested in sixth grade and keep them interested in seventh and eighth grade, it not only helps prepare them academically but also engages them with the world and current events that they are hearing about on the news,” Bynum said. “We realized that if we could catch those students in middle school, then they were more successful with research skills and communication skills later.”

For Griffith, whose resolution was approved by the assembling, the experience provided the opportunity to learn about some of the issues facing the country of Ethiopia and its people, while also gaining further appreciation for life in the United States.

“It was a good opportunity to learn about the issues that other countries are facing,” he said. “The literacy rate in Ethiopia is so low. We take it for granted here. We learn to read here in kindergarten. People in Ethiopia, if they do learn to read, tend to do it as adults. A lot of the time their lifestyle doesn’t require that. It is kind of upsetting and it makes me want to do what I can to help.”