Each year, 2,500 high school students from across the globe don their business-casual best and head to the Big Apple for the two-day Global Classrooms International Model UN Conference. For one group of students, hailing from John Adams High School in Queens, New York, the Model UN experience was about much more than international affairs. Decorum, a new documentary released by the UN Association of the United States (UNAUSA) and the UN Foundation -- the third and final installment of which premiered online yesterday -- follows these inner-city students through a model UN experience that would change their academic paths, and lives, forever.
Under the guidance of social studies teacher and Model UN leader Michael Budhu, the students spent the entire academic year researching and preparing to represent the nation of Sudan at Model UN. "It's our super bowl," Budhu said. "It's our end-all, be-all. It's what we work towards for the whole year."
The class was divided into pairs of delegates who each dealt with a specific issue, such as the drug trade and maternal mortality rates (Sudan's is the highest in the world). Budhu said that although his students were initially intimidated by students from wealthier communities, the program helped them to become more confident in voicing their beliefs and more aware of world issues.
"Inner city schools have that inner city culture where it's hard for kids to think outside of the box. As far as a teenager is concerned their world ends where their school boundary ends," Budhu said. "A program like this allows inner city school children to meet kids from private schools and schools from all over the world."
Budhu's biggest challenge was developing his students' self-esteem so that they were no longer opposed to having their ideas challenged. "There's something beyond the academics that they learn, in terms of increasing self-confidence and self-esteem. It radiates from them once they go through a process like this," he said.
Speaking in front of hundreds of other students was a struggle for many of the students, which ultimately helped them to improve as public speakers. "Before I was in Model UN, I couldn't talk in front of anybody. I couldn't talk in front of like five kids, but now I can be a speaker in front of the whole school and I'll have no problem," said student Paul Singh.
And this newfound confidence seeps into all facets of their academic and personal lives -- Budhu said that many of his students have moved from grade-level to AP classes as a result of the program.
And one senior, Gabriela Valerio, said that Model UN has changed her entire academic career. “When I first started at John Adams -- let's just say I didn’t go down the right path. I wasn't hanging out with the right people and I wasn't doing the right things. When I joined model UN, I wasn't really planning on staying because it didn't seem like something that I was interested in... But now I have two AP classes and I'm going to graduate on time."
Valerio said that the experience helped her do "more than [she] ever thought possible." She now plans to attend college after taking a semester off and study to become a psychologist.
According to Budhu, the moral of Model UN is to encourage you to get out of your comfort zone, whether it's your school, your neighborhood or your burrough -- like the John Adams students -- so that you can start thinking on a global scale and see yourself as a true citizen of the world.
"I can see them walking with a sense of pride, a sense of purpose," said Budhu. "And that’s what it's all about."
Watch parts 1, 2, and 3 of Decorum below.