Elmont High Model UN excels at West Coast conference


For the members of Elmont Memorial High School’s Model United Nations, working with other students from schools around the world has opened their eyes to new perspectives.

Madison Gayle, the club’s vice president, said her experience at the international University of California at Berkeley Model UN Conference March 7-10 gave her invaluable new perspective on how other students learn. The conference, which has run for 72 years, welcomed 2,000 students this year.

“Being able to see other students in real life and just gain perspective on truly how the world is, and being able to see that at such a young age, is really a privilege that I feel really grateful for,” Gayle said.

Christopher Cherry, assistant treasurer of the club and a recipient of a best delegate award in the conference’s and International Security Committee, said that the experience was “refreshing and enlightening.”

Giselly Romero, the Elmont Model UN’s treasurer, described the conference as an “eye-opening” experience, with opportunities to work with students from other countries.

“Being a Spanish speaker myself, and seeing how those students travel and their experiences, along with me in the West Coast, it’s really an enlightening experience,” Romero said.

The Elmont students earned seven committee awards at the event, including a best position award in the Economic and Financial Council, Cherry’s best delegate award and a best school award.

The Elmont student delegates represented the Bahamas, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brunei, India, Malawi, Romania and Zambia. They developed UN-style resolutions focusing on issues such as the Venezuelan economic crisis, vigilante violence in global conflicts and combating dependence on foreign aid in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Members of the Elmont delegation included Gayle, Cherry, Romero, Elissa Acheampong, Jayson Bhoorasingh, Ruthann Collins, Joseley Jean, Alex Lalbachan, Yalisah Lozada, Imani Lyons, Kiara Membreno, Videsh Muneshwar, Nwadiuto Onyeobia, Varda Qudratullah, Maya Reyes and Kassie Rosier.

During the conference, Gayle explained, the delegates researched and created policies that addressed issues that were presented to them. They debated formally and informally with their fellow delegates, with the goal of creating resolution papers.

The Model UN program at Elmont High started in 1978, and serves as a flagship program for the Sewanhaka school district.

“It’s a community-supported program, and the parents are highly involved, making financial sacrifices to give their children this unique activity,” adviser Nkenge Gilliam, a social studies teacher at the high school, said. The cost of attending the conference was $2,000 per student.

“It’s a unique program that only private schools in America have, for the most part,” Gilliam said. “Very, very few public school district programs finance Model UN.”

The students review parliamentary procedures with Gilliam during meetings on most school days at 7 a.m. Before conferences, which students usually take part in twice per academic year, they review the specific procedures of the conference they will be attending. The first conference the students attended this year was held at Princeton University from Nov. 16-19.

“We practice public speaking every single day,” Gilliam said. “And we do a lot of impromptu speaking, because I want the students to be ready. Because if you’re ready, you don’t have to get ready.”

The current club members started training for conferences with Gilliam virtually in 2020 and 2021. The transition from virtual to in-person conferences, she said, was a major transition for students last year.

Gayle said that this year the group learned how to work together well in person.

“A lot of us were also trained virtually,” she said, “so having that experience and learning how to be in person, and the importance of things like body language, and the things that you really don’t notice unless you’re in a room with a bunch of people your age — I feel like we really got to grow in that aspect.”

Gayle added that she and her peers developed valuable teamwork skills, working with students from other schools as well as one another.

“We learned the value of being able to have team chemistry and being able to support each other and uplift each other,” she said. “I think it really has paid off this year.”