The delegates milled around the international conference facility, introducing themselves to one another and explaining which countries they represented. They shared their distinct perspectives on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which they would soon begin to debate—important topics ranging from climate change to global educational initiatives to international poverty. They also began facilitating the allegiances necessary to develop world-changing resolutions.
They also, occasionally, broke into peals of teenage laughter.
Peoria Academy’s Model United Nations Summit gathered around 100 students from 13 area middle schools. Such was the scene at Peoria Academy’s first Model United Nations Summit this spring, a gathering of around 100 students from 13 area middle schools intended to bring a global, solutions-based focus to education in central Illinois. The event marked the tenth year that Peoria Academy has hosted a “Global Leadership Summit,” a chance for students to connect classroom learning to real-world challenges.
An Eye-Opening Experience
We know that the best education seeks to move learning out of the school building and into the world. Our global summit is one way we do this. It’s a way to build community here in our city, but also help these children realize that by working together, and tapping into what they’ve learned here, they can solve the world’s biggest problems.
For James Bartelme, a rising sixth grader at Peoria Academy who represented Somalia at the conference, that “big problem” was the lack of clean water and sanitation. In his committee, he joined representatives from wealthier countries to try to come up with a resolution that would help address the fact that, according to the World Health Organization, nearly one third of people globally lack access to safe drinking water.
Taking on the role of a developing country in this process was eye-opening, James explains. “It made me see that solutions, like desalination, need to include a lot of different countries from all around the world.”
Peoria Academy is doubling down on its commitment to this sort of world-focused education. The private school for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade already boasts a diverse, global student body and perspective. But it is now in the process of becoming an official International Baccalaureate World School—an internationally recognized designation seen by many education experts as the gold standard for academic institutions.
Excited for the Future
At the Model UN, many Peoria Academy students said they were enthusiastic about their school’s International Baccalaureate future. “I’m excited to have more opportunities to engage with global issues in the International Baccalaureate program,” states Emitt Stevenson, a rising eighth grader. “I want to study overseas in England. I’m particularly interested in physics and finance. No matter what career I choose, I think the communication and lobbying skills from projects like Model UN will be really good for me."
And Emitt needed those skills. He was chair of the Quality Education committee, overseeing debate about the global digital divide and how it was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was his job, he explains, to make sure all the different delegates—from their various countries and competing middle schools—were working together.
In the end, according to Emitt, it went well. “It was interesting to see how—even though we didn’t know each other before—we could all work together to solve problems that are bigger than us individually,” he adds. “We could make the world a better place.” PM
Christopher Wilson is head of school at Peoria Academy. For more information, visit peoriaacademy.org.