Students take on the world

Middle school expands Model UN program


Kilgore Middle School students are traveling the world without ever leaving Kilgore – all the while, learning about crises facing people in other countries.

Following the lead of the high school and college level Model United Nations, Kilgore Middle School adopted the program for its eighth graders last year and this year expanded it to include seventh graders.

With countries ranging from Sweden to Spain to Venezuela, the students and their groups must research situations in each country and the biggest threat facing the people.

For the group representing Sweden, the crisis they chose is that facing Syrian refugees, focusing on extremists’ actions to burn down refugees’ houses in the country.

Through their research, KMS eighth grader Carter Boone said, he learned, “There’s more to the world than meets the eye. I would have never known about Sweden’s Syrian refugees if I hadn’t researched it. I didn’t know it was a problem.”

KMS math teacher and Model UN sponsor Suellen Pfeffer said the crisis each team selects should be one that can be seen on a global scale also because the students also must write a resolution about the situation. One of their tasks during the competition is to get other countries – with schools represented from throughout the Region 7 ESC coverage area – to adopt their resolution.

“[Region 7 GT Specialist Donna] Ashby is really great about talking to them about how this is all about the wellbeing of the world,” Pfeffer said. “We’re not here to downplay other countries; we’re not here to ‘get them.’”

“The funny thing about this is watching the kids have to take themselves out of an American student, and put themselves into their country and realize that there are issue that are there and there’s crises and what they’re living is a much better life than what they’re experiencing elsewhere,” Pfeffer said.

There is a growth also in the students, she said. When last year’s eighth graders – the first group to take part in middle school Model UN – went to the competition, many were hesitant or reluctant to speak, but then people started disagreeing with their resolution.

“They want theirs to pass, and they will start throwing up their little placards with their country name on it to get their resolution to pass, and then when someone starts putting theirs down – and not in a bad way – they get real defensive,” she said.

No matter whether the groups agree or disagree with another country’s resolution, the students must explain support for their decision.

“They can’t just say, ‘I don’t like your resolution.’ They have to have reasons,” she said. “If it helps their country or if it doesn’t help their country. That’s why it has to be a global issue that they write about because you want more countries to support your problem and you have to come up with a way to solve your problem in your country.”

The research has also affected the students’ views of their own lives in the United States. Alex Cervantes, whose group represents Venezuela, said learning about the riots in the country over food and disapproval of the president has made him more appreciative of the United States.

“The reason the crisis started is because they dropped the prices in oil, so oil was like worthless and that was like the only thing there… I thought our country was a little bad, but I looked at that and I like this country way better.”

Malorie Hensley also got a better idea of what is happening all over the world as she and her group researched malnutrition and hunger in Spain.

“I had always known that hunger was a problem, but I didn’t know it was that big,” she said. “Working with my partners and everything, I’ve just kind of learned that that’s a bigger issue than I ever thought it was.”

“I have seen the kids all of a sudden realize the whole world is not like what they experience every day, so they’re getting a little outside of themselves and outside of the United States as far as how people live and education and all of those things that play into the world that they were totally unaware of because they don’t watch the news,” KMS English teacher and Model UN sponsor Debby Leppert said. “But now some of them have started watching the news. Of course the UN was meeting… I kept telling them, ‘Watch the news because the Security Council is meeting.’ They’re talking about issues that affect the world because of North Korea possibly with the capability of nuclear weapons. I said, ‘This is happening right now.’“

This year’s eighth graders are continuing KMS’ involvement in the competition, but the seventh graders are joining the competition also. Eventually, the teachers hope to bring the sixth graders in, as well.

Eighth graders will compete at Region 7 Jan. 29 and 30 (Monday and Tuesday), while seventh graders will take part in events at the Kilgore facility Jan. 25 and 26 (Thursday and Friday).