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Santa Barbara Montessori Students Return to United Nations in NYC

Santa Barbara Montessori School’s seventh- through ninth-graders have arrived at the United Nations in New York City for presentations and debates as part of the 2013 Montessori Model United Nations program, which opened Thursday morning and will continue through Saturday.

Preparations for the MMUN began months ago as the junior high students began their research into a variety of different topics pertaining to specific United Nation member countries.

“For the seventh-grade students, this experience is new for them,” SBMS Head of School Jim Fitzpatrick said, “but for the eighth-graders they’re now returning for a second go-round of debate and presentations because they were introduced to the procedures and the experience last year.”

MMUN students formulate, present, debate and revise positions on current issues that are affecting people of the world. By assuming the perspectives of a citizen of their selected countries, MMUN students not only develop an understanding of the needs and rights of others, but also learn to respect the cultures, the political views and the belief systems of others.

“This year, for the first time, we have ninth-grade students who will participate at the MMUN’s ‘Rapporteur’ level,” Fitzpatrick said. “These students essentially direct all of the daily activities of hundreds of students from around the world who present their positions to their group throughout the day.”

One SBMS student, ninth-grader Samantha Page, is the “rapporteur” for the UNICEF Committee, and she will oversee and direct discussions and presentations focused on eliminating childhood soldiers as well as a discussion of the merits of education for young girls.

Within the UNICEF Committee presentation will be two SBMS student groups, including eighth-graders Colin Daniel, Kelby Pintard, and Gavin Klingensmith, who are presenting their information regarding Colombia in South America. Colombia has serious issues with young children being kidnapped by guerrilla groups, and then being forced to become childhood soldiers. SBMS’ other UNICEF group is seventh-graders Sophia Vraciu and Chad Benedetto, who have researched childhood related issues involving France.

The United Nations’ Economic and Social Council has another ninth-grader heading up that group, “Rapporteur” Evan Schaeffer.

Rep. Lois Capps meets with Santa Barbara Montessori School students in Washington, D.C., two weeks ago. (Santa Barbara Montessori School photo)
Rep. Lois Capps meets with Santa Barbara Montessori School students in Washington, D.C., two weeks ago. (Santa Barbara Montessori School photo)

“Evan will oversee discussions and debates of another 150 students from around the world,” Fitzpatrick said. “That group will include SBMS eighth-graders Clark Cossin and Mateo Luca-Lion, who are making presentations about France and its challenges and successes having to do with micro-finances amidst the ongoing Euro debt crisis.”

Two other SBMS students, Ada Vintar and Emily Jensen, are working within the U.N. Legal Committee, and their report is an update about the death penalty, and also copyright laws and infringements. The final two groups are working under the U.N. World Health Committee’s topics of AIDS and Maternal Health, with Madeleine Price and Dario Bucy working on Colombia, and Tommy Muneio and Holden Corrigan presenting about France.

“All of the students have been preparing for weeks,” Fitzpatrick said. “Actually, it’s been months. Their initial research began in September, with interruptions along the way. In fact, this group just returned two weeks ago from a week-long trek to Washington, D.C., where amongst other stops they were able to meet with the Hon. Lois Capps at the nation’s Capitol. It’s been a busy year, but very productive, and next year the eighth-graders in this group will be able to return as ‘rapporteurs’ themselves. By this time next year these students will direct the daily discussions and debates of several hundred students from around the world.”

During the conference, the rapporteur students have to be able to employ a variety of communication and critical thinking skills in order to represent the policies of their country — public speaking, group communication, research, policy analysis, active listening, negotiating, conflict resolution, note taking, and technical writing — are all part of the total experience. Plus, as delegates they have to look closely at the needs, goals and foreign policies of the countries they represent at the event. The insights they gain from their exploration of history, geography, culture, economics and science contribute to the authenticity of the simulation. For them the total experience is as real as it can be.

“Santa Barbara Montessori School has celebrated United Nations Day each October for more than 35 years,” Fitzpatrick said, “and our junior high classes have been increasing our involvement in the MMUN for the past six years. It’s an incredible opportunity to include the United Nations’ community in our classrooms. Some of our eighth-graders are already talking about next year, and they just arrived in New York on Wednesday for this year’s conference!”

— Jim Fitzpatrick is the head of school for Santa Barbara Montessori School.

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