Health care, climate change: Bellarmine’s Model United Nations teaches consensus, compromise

  • Written by Nathan Whalen
  • Published in Local
Jordan Allen from St. Patrick School in Tacoma was among some 50 middle-school students from Catholic and public schools who participated in the first BellarMUN conference. The event was sponsored by Bellarmine Preparatory School’s Model United Nations club. Photo: Courtesy Ken Brown Jordan Allen from St. Patrick School in Tacoma was among some 50 middle-school students from Catholic and public schools who participated in the first BellarMUN conference. The event was sponsored by Bellarmine Preparatory School’s Model United Nations club. Photo: Courtesy Ken Brown

TACOMA – Access to health care. The rights of indigenous people. Climate change. Education in developing nations.

Middle-school students from the region tackled these issues from the perspectives of different countries during the inaugural BellarMUN Middle School Conference, organized by Bellarmine Preparatory School’s Model United Nations club.

“We were very surprised and delighted” about the skills of the 50 attendees, said Bellarmine senior Connor Simmons. None of the middle-schoolers, representing 10 Catholic and public schools, had participated in such a conference before, he noted.

The two-day event, held on Bellarmine’s campus in April, tasked the younger students with researching and debating global issues, then reaching consensus and adopting resolutions, in the style of the United Nations.

Members of the Bellarmine Model UN Club spent months planning the conference, a scaled-down version of the events they attend each year. “We travel to conferences through the U.S. and Canada and debate important geopolitical issues and build consensus,” Simmons said.

Bellarmine junior Kelsey Braford said the event was a way to reach out to younger students who may not have similar options at their schools. “We thought it would be a great way for middle school students to start their own Model UN,” said Ken Brown, adviser for Bellarmine’s Model UN club.

Bellarmine UN students
Mason Daniels of St. Charles Borromeo School in Tacoma represents the People’s Republic of China during a Model United Nations conference for middle-school students. The BellarMUN event was hosted at Tacoma’s Bellarmine Preparatory School by its Model UN club. Photo: Courtesy Ken Brown

Students play the part of a country and its ambassador, working in committees to reach consensus on specific issues. “It gets kids to think about some of these really serious global issues from other perspectives,” Brown said.

The BellarMUN participants included Bellarmine senior Clare McKenna’s younger sister Elyse, a sixth-grader at Holy Family School in Auburn, and her cousin Arianna, a seventh-grader at St. Francis of Assisi School in Burien.

“They’re enjoying the same things I am and I’m six years older than them,” said McKenna, a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Federal Way.

The event also served as a fundraiser for Bellarmine’s program, with about $3,000 collected for a scholarship fund to help students defray the costs of attending high school conferences. The club has 50 members, and as many as half of them attend each conference.

After wrapping up the middle-school conference, some Bellarmine Model UN members began getting ready for the Canada International Model UN conference, being held May 19-21 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

It’s the last of five conferences (including one in Washington, D.C.) attended by Bellarmine members this year. PACMUN, a conference in Seattle, was started by Bellarmine students in 2014, Brown said, and now is organized by three or four high schools in Pierce and King counties. Drawing about 1,000 students each year, it is the biggest Model UN conference in the state, he added.

Brown, a history teacher, started Bellarmine’s Model UN program five years ago, wanting a club for students interested in social studies. “We have a lot of really smart kids, but not a lot of after-school activities that would push kids,” he said.

The goal of a Model UN conference isn’t to win, he said, but for students to work together toward a resolution.

Braford enjoys Model UN because she’s interested in law and politics and likes structured debate. “It’s a great place to learn how to build consensus and compromise,” she said.

BellarMUN conference participantsMiddle-school students Kiera Shedd, left, Lauren Cook, Ariela DeLeon work together during the BellarMUN conference at Tacoma’s Bellarmine Preparatory School in April. Each student represented a different country as they researched, debated and reached consensus on global issues, in the style of the United Nations. Photo: Courtesy Ken Brown