Conference provides model for future leaders
Roughly 200 middle and high school students gathered behind circles of desks in cramped classrooms at Lanier Middle School on Saturday to debate issues of diplomacy, environmentalism and even nuclear warfare under the guise of a United Nations gathering. The United Nations’ Global Classrooms Houston Model UN Conference worked with the University of Houston to bring together low-income students to tackle issues that real diplomats debate every day.
Though the program was originally hosted at UH, several local schools have hosted it while the University Center was being renovated. When the final renovations are complete in January 2015, the program will return to UH to be held in the New UC’s conference rooms.
“I think (what’s) really important about GCE compared to other conferences, it focuses more on education about current issues,” said Sebastian Agudelo, president of Model United Nations at UH and an organizer of the event. “UH has been involved since 2001 when it was brought to Houston … We’re trying to change the environment around (the students) and make future leaders.”
For some students, such as Janiceal Lockett, a ninth-grader at Houston Academy for International Studies who represented Japan in a habitat debate, Model UN is a year-long required class.
“I learned a lot about the world that I didn’t know about, what’s going on instead of being kind of sheltered,” Lockett said. “It made me think what I can do better for the world, it made me think how the world works. It showed me the world is not in black and white; it’s in between sometimes.”
UH’s involvement provides an added benefit, Agudelo said: it gives students a push to attend a college or university. Students gathered to speak with several current UH students, asking them about college and what they liked about their experience at the University.
“You don’t see the reward initially. You see it several years later, when the kids take what they learn here into college and after college,” said David Schellbert, a Model UN teacher at Burbank Middle School. “Sometimes you have to encourage those in power at your school to not give up on this. … You just have to make it happen, work it in when you can. If you can’t work it in to a class like I can, you just have to work it into Wednesday afternoons or Friday afternoons, just make it work.”
The class usually begins out of a demand from social studies teachers who fight to introduce the relatively unusual curriculum.
“We created (the class) because the schools that do it and the teachers particularly, because they push for it, know how important it is for students to learn about the world and become global citizens. This program teaches a lot of skills related to public speaking, critical thinking, research and such, while dealing with international problems of diplomacy,” said Sara Timms, vice president and education director of UNA-Houston’s Global Classrooms.
“It combines an educational thing with really making sure that kids know about what’s going on in the world, and more importantly, a way to solve the issues in a peaceful manner.”
Two speakers, John C. Roberts, a diplomat in residence at UH, and Edward P. Djerejian, a former U.S. ambassador and director of the Baker Institute at Rice University, spoke to the students, answering questions and giving life advice.