Friendships and grades didn’t matter to Cold Spring 5th-grader Hope Kean last Wednesday. It was all about global allies, procedural points of order, and the passage of Resolution 301. As Egypt’s delegate to the Cold Spring Model United Nations, Hope was pulling out all the stops to make sure that member countries funded a $9 million cleanup of the Suez Canal to promote environmentally friendly trade.
Hope supported Roy Liu, the French delegate, when he introduced a resolution that would reduce sulphur emissions. Now Hope needed Roy to deliver.
“I did vote for [Roy’s resolution]. I was mostly trading votes. … It doesn’t really affect me,” Hope said. The Suez Canal, however, does affect her, and many of her allies, like France. “They use my canal a lot.”
This is the way Cold Spring’s 5th-graders approached their Model United Nations Environmental Summit on Wednesday, May 23.
“People seem to get into it,” Hope said. At first she dreaded another class assignment. “Now I’m not thinking about the grade; I’m thinking about how to get a resolution passed.”
“I WAS SURPRISED that everyone was so into it,” said Roy, the French delegate, several hours into the exercise. He was also impressed with how authoritative Aanchal Johri had become as the Secretary General. “I didn’t know she could be so loud.”
It’s necessary. The room is full of 5th-grade delegates, many of whom are shouting “Point of order!” or demanding yet another four-minute recess, or making requests like the one from Bryan Hu, United Arab Emirates delegate, who dryly asked, “May I request more time for Germany interrupting my time?” Aanchal had to wield her authority and keep things moving. “The delegate from Saudi Arabia is out of order!” Aanchal said one time, pounding her gavel.
“Please answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’” Aanchal said another time when delegates became too cute with their votes. “I will not entertain any motions until we have tallied our votes.”
MARY DARLING, a science teacher at Cold Spring, runs the Model U.N. each year. The county’s 5th-grade science curriculum has a unit on solar energy; Darling attempts to teach it as part of a multidisciplinary event. Cold Spring’s Model U.N. Environmental Summit is part lesson in current global events, part economics, part science, part public speaking exercise, part debating exercise, and maybe even a bit of Reality TV (the angling for strategic alliances would seem familiar to “Survivor” or “Amazing Race” viewers.)
Darling also hopes the students retain the environmental lessons they’ve learned.
“For them to actually have some education about environmental issues, they have to get excited about it now,” Darling said. “They have to understand … how science goes with politics and with economics.”
Darling’s class is part of Cold Spring’s Gifted and Talented Program, but any interested 5th-graders are eligible to participate in the Model U.N. Nicole Fridling opted into it, and as a delegate for Pakistan, wearing traditional Pakistani clothing, she meant business. “There’s even more pressure on us, because we want to keep up with everybody else,” Nicole said. “It’s a very cool experience.”
“You need quick thinking,” said Sauran Das, deleage for India. Nobody knows what’s going to happen once their resolution is introduced, and they need to be ready to defend it. In a practice run earlier in the week, Sauran saw a classmate in the political fight of his life. “They were very insulting of the resolution,” Sauran said. “They kept quizzing [the delegate].”
Participating 5th-graders had free rein to pass notes in class on Wednesday — they even had 4th-grade pages to do the work for them. Pages quietly glided about the classroom throughout the debates, picking up their messages and scurrying away to the proper recipient. In the final moments before a vote, pages often dropped heaps of notes in front of the Secretary General and Assistant Secretary General.
AFTER HOPE introduced her resolution, she needs to keep attuned to all the amendments her classmates kept proposing. Some of the “friendly amendments” weren’t very friendly, and Hope was suspicious of one that would redirect the U.N. funds to the world’s top five most polluted waterways. This one might have left the Suez Canal out in the cold. “I cannot support this amendment,” Hope said. “The Suez Canal is a vital trade route.”
The moment of truth arrived when the Secretary General called for a yes-or-no vote. Hope’s resolution passed 29-3. “Yes!” Hope said in a stage whisper with a fist-pump.
Later, she talked about the last-minute negotiations it took to secure the resolution’s passage. She wondered why Brazil and China voted against it. She thought Brazil’s delegate was going to trade votes, and why would China vote against its own self-interest? “China uses the Suez Canal like crazy, and they still voted against it! It’s obvious …” but she tailed off, then sighed and shrugged. “Oh well.”