Bancroft sixth graders learn to become better global citizens through Model UN program

WORCESTER _ Regional marketing firm PENTA Communications, Inc., of Westborough, Massachusetts, joined the United Nations Global Compact in 2013 in an effort to strengthen its commitment to maintaining one the organizations’ core initiatives of supporting international diplomacy in Central Massachusetts.

For nearly a decade of the firm’s 25 years, it has worked at creating opportunities to host various business leaders and collegiate leadership delegates from all over the world. This has fostered good relations and provided an American leadership experience to those seeking to understand the role of business in the U.S., and most specifically, the role that female business leaders play in American business. Most of these opportunities have taken place in collaboration with the International Center of Worcester and the U.S. Department of State.

In celebration of PENTA’s 25th anniversary year, the firm has made a commitment to give back to 25 organizations that resonate with its core values. The Company has given back to organizations that strengthen the region’s economy, to arts and cultural organizations, educational organizations, and community organizations.

PENTA’s commitment to its work with the United Nations Global Compact, and in an effort to foster diplomacy and education, led to the firm’s decision to underwrite a Model United Nations (Model UN) program.

Model UN was founded even before the actual United Nations, when students held a series of Model League of Nations in the 1920s. The Model U.N. program is a successor to a student-directed simulation of what preceded the U.N. itself; however, it is not documented exactly how the Model U.N. began.

Offering students unique insights into diplomacy and globalization are core components of the Model UN program. Beginning in April, students in Grade 6 from Worcester’s Bancroft School became part of this innovative and progressive global educational program. Bancroft School is an independent, coeducational, college preparatory day school for grades Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12.

The Model UN program was developed as an authentic simulation of the General Assembly of the United Nations and other multilateral bodies to promote student and teacher interest in international relations; increase the capacity for students to engage in problem solving, conflict resolution, research skills, and communication skills. The program helps to empower more local youth with college-preparatory, academically rigorous Model UN programs that nurture non-violent conflict resolution skills and global citizenship.

“In today’s business environment, there are no longer borders or boundaries relative to geography. Students are raised in a global environment where technology is the norm, and they are connected to a worldwide network of people and possibilities,” said Deborah Penta, CEO of PENTA Communications, Inc. “Many students begin familiarization with foreign language before kindergarten, and international diversification in today’s classrooms is phenomenal. Model UN is a great opportunity for students to study global affairs and take ownership of a stance, learn to debate their ideas, and form healthy collaborative solutions as a diversified team with different values and ideals. If we can teach our children how to successfully navigate challenging topics in global team collaboration, they will gain invaluable skills that will impact their success for the future.”

Traditionally the Model UN program was an after school (club) activity at high schools and universities, according to Lena Granberg, Executive Director of the United Nations Association of Greater Boston (UNA-GB). However, over the years, middle school students began participating as well.  UNA-GB develops a range of curricula and resources for teachers and students to easily access Model UN and facilitates lesson plans in the classroom and Model UN simulations.

“The Model UN program is a perfect fit for Bancroft. It is a textbook example of project-based learning that meets the School’s mission to help students ‘learn to embrace the moral and ethical challenges of being lifelong learners, teachers of others, and citizens of an increasingly complex global community,”‘ said Bancroft Headmaster Scott Reisinger.

“It is a fantastic program that promotes a better understanding of global politics and initiatives, promotes world geography knowledge, enhances public speaking skills and refines research skills,” said Abigail Church, Bancroft sixth grade teacher.

Church, along with staff from the UNA-GB, chose Child Labor as the topic the students will research then debate in a Model UN Simulation, which will complement the students’ existing curriculum.

A Model UN Simulation puts the students into the shoes of delegates representing actual countries working to solve real world issues. This exercise requires students to look beyond their own personal opinions and perspective and adopt those opinions of the country they are representing. The UNA-GB provides the students with a customized topic guide, student worksheets and handouts, and customized data sets for each of the countries to be researched.

“Delegates articulate their own country’s position, but must also comprehend those of others.  This teaches them the valuable tools of compromise and empathy when negotiating towards a common goal,” Granberg said.

Staff from the UNA-GB met with Church to go over the curriculum, assessment methods, and logistics for the two simulations. The first simulation is to prepare students for the final simulation and is called a “silly simulation.” It requires no prior knowledge and is done to help students become familiar with the formal language that is used in a Model UN simulation. Students will also be introduced to resolution writing by UNA-GB staff and will learn the formal style of resolution writing.

“Students are broadening their world view in terms of children’s access to education and getting basic human needs met. Many of them have expressed surprise that there are people in the world who attempt to subsist on $1.25 a day or that the life expectancy in some places is only 48 (Congo). They are making inferences about a country’s stability and the quality of life based on statistical information given by Model UN,” Church said. “The students have used words like ‘surprising,’ “eye-opening’ and ‘appreciative’ when I asked them to share their thoughts about the Model UN experience.”

“As I watched the country delegates, young boys and girls from cities and small towns clustered in a specific corner of Massachusetts, I was struck by how willing and able the students were to take on varying viewpoints about some very difficult, real world issues,” said Trevor O’Driscoll, Head of Bancroft’s Middle School. “I’ve always believed that kids learn best by doing, not by receiving information and regurgitating it. With the Model UN simulation our teachers and visiting educator staged a world in which our students had a voice, a viewpoint, and a platform to wrestle with big ideas.”

In 2012-2013, 97 schools participated in the UNA-GB’s Model UN program, with a total of four Model UN Conferences, serving 1,081 students; three “mini-simulations” serving 291 students; numerous in-class visits from UNA-GB staff serving 2,112 students; and two Model UN Institutes serving 89 students.

“A great many of our former students have used their Model UN experience to gain acceptance to college and pursue degrees and careers in International Relations and Public Policy,” Granberg said.

Granberg noted that a large number of students who chose different career paths have shared testimonies acknowledging the skills and confidence they gained through participation in the Model UN programs of the UNA-GB, contributed to their future academic and professional success.

Some well-known and successful Model UN alumni include Madeleine Albright, Chelsea Clinton, and Ryan Seacrest.

“Students become more globally-minded, learning and caring about world issues that they otherwise might not be exposed to. Perhaps more importantly, they learn to analyze information, negotiate with their peers and devise thoughtful solutions to complex global issues, building skills for school, community and the workplace,” Granberg said. “Ultimately, Model UN nurtures students to become adults who will embrace the responsibility and privilege of being a global citizen.”

“We were so pleased to bring this initiative to the Bancroft School in Worcester,” Penta said.