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Tampa Bay middle schoolers ponder world peace at Model U.N. Conference

Rebecca Kalakad and Amar Desai, both 14 and from Williams Middle Magnet School in Tampa, represent Turkey at the Security Council talks.

DOMINICK TAO | Times

Rebecca Kalakad and Amar Desai, both 14 and from Williams Middle Magnet School in Tampa, represent Turkey at the Security Council talks.

TAMPA — The plan was drawn up with near consensus among China, Russia and the United States. Worldwide nuclear weapons stockpiles, the superpowers decided, should be reduced over 10 years until none remain.

Gabon and Bosnia-Herzegovina, seemingly marginal players on the geopolitical stage, were also major parties in crafting the resolution, which included a provision for armed inspections by United Nations troops to ensure compliance.

If only the real U.N. Security Council could solve nuclear arms proliferation in the course of an afternoon.

On the University of South Florida campus Wednesday, dozens of students from 19 Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas county middle and high schools gathered for the Tampa Bay Global Classrooms Model U.N. Conference.

The students claimed the roles of ambassadors for the world's nations, often adopting their randomly assigned nations as if they were their own.

For the middle school-level security council, composed of 30 students representing 15 countries, tackling the world's nuclear weapons problem was at times a passionate affair.

"We don't want a nation such as Iran getting supplies for nuclear weapons," cried Robert Chrostowski, 14, representative of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and also an eighth-grader at Williams Middle Magnet School for International Studies in Tampa.

The Iran question arose because of a proposed clause considering what do with the surplus radioactive material.

That question, spearheaded by Sydney Owens, 13, of Gabon's delegation, seemed to be quickly swept aside. Owens otherwise is an eigth-grader at Raymond B. Stewart Middle School in Zephyrhills.

Owens, aware of her own country's limited bargaining power, took initiative to keep the political gears rolling when potential roadblocks arose. For instance, China, with its veto power, was hesitant to completely empty its arsenal.

"If they are willing to reduce their nuclear stockpile at all, that's a step in the right direction," Owens said.

Preparing for such debate is no simple task. Many participants stayed after school after their countries were assigned two weeks ago, preparing for the conference.

"We looked up what resolutions have been passed before on the U.N. Web site," Chrostowski said. "Some of them are more than 100 pages long. I sat down and read through them."

Even though the students are all years away from running the show themselves, parents, teachers and event moderators all say their ideas at times can be novel — and their political savvy surprising.

"Some of the resolutions they come up with, I'd like to see them take them to the real top dogs," said Pam Winters, mother of Russian delegation member Zachary Winters, 13, from Stewart Middle.

Liz Alarcon, a junior at the University of Miami and volunteer chair of the middle school security council, said she is often impressed by the solutions to world problems preteens can come up with.

"Middle schoolers have imaginative minds. They do come up with a lot of unconventional solutions," Alarcon said.

Dominick Tao can be reached at (727) 580-2951 or dtao@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay middle schoolers ponder world peace at Model U.N. Conference 03/24/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 24, 2010 8:20pm]
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