The first-ever Model United Nations Summit was held for fourth-graders in West Hartford on May 18, 2023.
By Bridget Bronsdon
The fourth grade Quest students from across the West Hartford school district stepped into big shoes this past Thursday as they participated in the first-ever mock Model United Nations Summit. The topics? World hunger and equitable education. As advanced as those themes may be, it was nothing the students couldn’t handle.
Chatter filled the auditorium, attentively decorated with the United Nations symbol and flags of various countries, as students were busy crafting name cards, meeting new peers from fellow schools, and participating in lighthearted banter. Seated at round tables throughout the auditorium, children mingled with their collaborators as state Sen. Derek Slap took to the podium.
The day commenced with a warm welcome from Slap. The Connecticut senator aptly commanded the room of students and began by asking the students how they were feeling. The students, all eager to raise their hands, responded with feelings of nervousness, excitement, and happiness. After hearing from the students, the legislator continued on with his presentation but made sure to tell the children: “Anything at all, feel free to ask.”
Slap laid the foundations of the United Nations activity by asking the students a series of six questions. The first of the six regarded traits for success in a leadership role.
The first trait Slap mentioned was work ethic. “The key is to work hard,” Slap said. The second trait? Humility. After asking the students what that word meant, Slap suggested his definition of the term: “You always embrace the opportunity to learn…you should be learning your entire life…you can’t learn if you think you know all the answers.”
The third trait? Treating people well, Slap revealed.
The following questions posed by Slap led the students to consider who inspires them as a leader and how to navigate situations in which individuals disagree. Throughout his time speaking, Slap made sure to recognize the quality of education West Hartford provides. “We are a beacon all across the state,” Slap said.
After sharing his knowledge with the students, Slap opened up the room to questions. A sea of hands immediately shot up as the students were eager to voice their questions and opinions. Just some of the questions children asked included, “How do you come up with a bill?”; “Are companies allowed to ask people their ethnicity?”; and questions regarding voting ages, among many others.
Before the students got to work with their activity, Slap encouraged them to email or call him if they had any ideas or advice to offer. Slap noted that “the best ideas come from you.”
After kicking off the student’s activity Slap expressed, “One, I want to make sure that they feel like their voices matter and that they have an opportunity to be heard and that their ideas are important, they don’t have to wait until they’re 18. And also that, like, government is accessible to them, it’s not some kind of obscure thing that doesn’t matter, that it impacts their lives, and so, I try to give examples of how it does that. It’s absolutely one of the best parts of my job, it’s such an honor to be able to do it,” he said.
“And if I can plant a little seed and just kind of supplement the great work that their teachers are doing then, you know, then that was a good day,” he added.
Promptly following the senator’s departure, the students got to work on the day’s activity. The first theme revolved around world hunger. Each table was composed of students from different schools and each student represented a different country. Throughout the academic year, the students have been studying and researching their country in the classroom in preparation for the mock summit.
Elyse Post-Perez, Quest teacher for Bugbee Elementary School, attested to the yearlong research the students have worked on leading up to today. Post-Perez mentioned that through Flipgrid videos, a website created to share video discussions, the students across the district have been collaborating for months.
“So, the students started first with selecting a country and they were put on teams within the classrooms and we made sure that all the Quest students in town had different countries,” Post-Perez said. “And then, we had the students research similar topics, like, the history of your country, the inventions, important political events that may have happened. And then, they created a Flipgrid video that they were able to share with other Quest students in town and were then able to comment and make connections from what they had learned and what was the same with what they saw for other countries. So these students have actually seen each other virtually for months now in these videos that we have posted, and this is the first time they’re now able to come together and actually talk in person about some of the topics that they’ve been all researching,” she said.
The students were tasked with sharing what they had researched with their peers to then collaborate on ways to combat world hunger. Students were far from shy as they enthusiastically shared their findings and conversation quickly filled the auditorium.
Following student-led discussions, each group shared something they had learned about their country. The answers included their country’s exports, resources, transportation, geography, and how they can collaborate with neighboring nations. The students then moved on to discuss equitable education and how they can collaborate to combat the issue on a global scale.
This district-wide activity has long since been in the works according to Post-Perez. “So we’ve been trying for many years to have a culminating activity for the Quest four students to be able to collaborate across town. And we have designed our curriculum to have the students exploring the past, present, and future of various countries, so they’re exploring the same topic and then from there we’re able to look at global issues that the United Nations looks at like education and hunger to then come together and be able to use their background knowledge in a creative way to collaborate.”
Dr. Mary Thompson, director of Gifted and Talented which covers the Quest programs – Quest, Math Quest, and Art Quest – expressed the goal of the activity for students. “The goal here is to ensure that our students not only are knowledgeable about our local, federal but our international world and understand their roles in having some impact and bringing good to our society. The earlier we start them, the better off they’re going to be,” she said.
Teresa Coursey, Norfeldt and Wolcott elementary Quest teacher, shared what she hoped the students will take away from such an extensive and impactful project. Coursey said she hopes that “they see the world and themselves in a more broader way, that understanding that West Hartford is their town but it’s more than just West Hartford. If you notice on the tables there’s maps, so they can kind of look at different countries, and I know some students say, ‘Oh, I want to visit that place someday!’ And seeing themselves not just in West Hartford but also outside of West Hartford as well.”
Michele Hadlock, Charter Oak Quest instructor added, “This project also gives kids the opportunity to use research skills and other twenty-first century skills to work collaboratively, to come together, we’re really supporting what the classroom teachers are doing but we’re bringing it one step farther.”
The day’s success was a triumphant one as the students across the district were able to exchange ideas, collaborate with new peers, and gain a new perspective outside of West Hartford.
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