Last week, eight Highlands Middle School students traveled to Birmingham Southern to participate in the state-wide Junior United Nations of Alabama Assembly (JUNA). JUNA is a student-run model of the United Nations Assembly for middle school students in Alabama. It raises awareness of worldwide issues, demonstrates how the United Nations works, and emphasizes the importance of problem-solving among nations, peoples, and cultures. Our students joined hundreds of others from around the state to discuss and learn about world conflicts.
Our team of students chose to represent Afghanistan at this year’s Assembly. Guided by their JUNA sponsors, Ms. Tynley Baker, Ms. Bree Holland, and Ms. Shara Kernan, they have been preparing and researching for months ahead of the event. The students spent weeks researching the complex problems facing the Afghan people and decided to focus their efforts on drafting a resolution to combat the extreme hunger the country’s children are facing.
We know that bread is a daily essential in the diet of the Afghan people. That’s why our Highlands team’s resolution proposed the creation of a non-governmental agency, Afghan Bread for Children, to work with the World Food Progamme to coordinate the local production and distribution of bread that is enriched with soy, raisins, and nuts. This program will not only reach Afghan children and teens facing food insecurity and malnutrition, but it will support the economy by working with local processors and bakeries. It will also assist Afghan women with the creation of in-home bakeries to produce this bread as well.
They submitted their resolution prior to the event and spent the weeks leading up to the event preparing speeches to defend their work. The two-day Assembly is a culmination event that tests the research, writing, critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration skills of our students, as well as exposing them to a unique public speaking opportunity. The Highlands delegation urged the JUNA assembly to vote for their resolution to increase food security for families and create local jobs thereby building community resilience. Their resolution was so powerful and well-thought out, it passed unanimously in the General Assembly.
Members of our delegation were Annsley Eskildsen, Pey En Fong, Ishaan Jain, Andrew Goodrich, Andrew Grover, Avina Mehra, Harris Murphree, and Micah Reeves. The students agree that JUNA is a special growth opportunity for them. Andrew Grover remarks, “JUNA has allowed me to meet people from all over Alabama while learning to problem solve and think publicly.” Micah agrees - “The experience of JUNA is unlike any other. The opportunity we are given to meet people from around the state is amazing. JUNA has also helped improve my public speaking and socialization skills. It has overall been a life-changing experience.”
Our Highlands team received six awards for their impressive efforts, including:
1. Outstanding Nation
2. Outstanding Resolution Honorable Mention
3. Outstanding Presentation Honorable Mention
4. Outstanding Girl Delegate Honorable Mention—Avina Mehra
5. Outstanding Boy Delegate—Micah Reeves
6. Outstanding Boy Delegate—Harris Murphree
Highlands formed its very first JUNA teams in 2013 and is now offered as an elective to our Middle School students. Since that time, many of our students have continued to participate in JUNA throughout their high school years. Some have served as student leaders, working closely with the director of JUNA. Others have served as student sponsors, forming teams at Altamont and Indian Springs. Sparked by their first experiences at JUNA with Highlands, our students have remained interested in global affairs and have expressed a desire to make a difference in the world.
JUNA encapsulates what makes a Highlands student stand out from the pack – global awareness and appreciation, confident public speaking skills, and the courage to be a compassionate advocate for others. As Ms. Holland summarizes, “JUNA is a learning experience that allows students to examine and reflect upon events and problems through the lens of different countries and cultures. Students act as leaders of their chosen nation and work diplomatically to solve a problem in their country while deepening their respect and understanding of other perspectives. This is an amazing opportunity for students to develop their global and cultural competencies as they practice ethical and empathetic decision making.”