By EmmaLee Italia | Correspondent
Representing not only their school’s interest in effective global communication, but also the Catholic Church teaching on being peacemakers, students of Mater Dei Prep, Middletown, gave a presentation at the Aug. 22 United Nations DPI / NGO 67th Global Summit, “We the Peoples: Global Summit for Global Solutions.”
Juniors Elizabeth Sheridan, Karen Nortz and Joseph Stanton, as well as 2018 Mater Dei graduate Katelyn Grano, offered a workshop focused on the “Art of Effective communication in Overcoming Challenging Dynamics in Supporting U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.” The program introduced key components to conflict reduction and promoting effective communication tactics, such as active listening and reframing.
“My students are trained to be future leaders by developing a sustainable development project,” said George S. Anthony, head of the Global Leaders Institute at Mater Dei Prep, and U.N. representative for Pathways to Peace.
In 2015 the GLI students began focusing on one of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals – specifically, Goal 4: Quality Education.
“When we saw the title of the conference, we felt that it was a good fit for a summit, so we applied to speak,” Anthony explained. “One of our leadership goals is communication and peaceful dialogue … moving conflict away from confrontation and toward resolution.”
Also attending the conference was Craig Palmer, principal of St. Mary School, Middletown, who intends to begin a similar group at his school, which shares a campus with Mater Dei Prep.
“Two years ago, we had the thought of implementing a similar program,” said Palmer, who noted that students from Mater Dei provided a training program for some of the St. Mary’s eighth-graders. “[Because of] the experience the kids had, seeing how they could make a difference in the world and that young people have a voice, we saw it as something [our school] could benefit from.”
The GLI group of 30 students – including Sheridan, Nortz, Stanton and Grano – was recognized by the U.N. in November 2017 for creating an education “tool kit,” designed to assist students living in areas of conflict, where access to education may be compromised because of war or terrorism. The tool kit includes school supplies sent in pizza boxes, along with a website, prep4peace.org, created by then-freshman Stanton, consisting of interaction discussion boards, mentoring programs and opportunities for refugee students to be helped by peers.
“The selection of Mater Dei Prep Global Institute to present at the summit clearly demonstrates the strength of our program as a factor in preparing our students to enter the global stage,” Anthony said. “I am beyond proud of their professionalism and dedication to building a better world.”
“I believe it’s important for youth to be involved in the United Nations, specifically in the field of peacekeeping and communication,” said Sheridan. “My generation is set to soon inherit the world. We must be prepared to deal with issues that arise in a way that promotes peace and unity. ... By allowing the youth to attend conferences and share their ideas on a global stage, [they] are propelled to the forefront of global issues.”
Grano, who graduated from Mater Dei in June, is now a freshman at Marist College, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., majoring in both environmental studies and international business. After diplomatic training at the U.N., she was named to the U.N. DPI steering committee, and was given a co-chair position on the youth logistics committee for this conference.
“I wanted to not only sit and listen in on conferences, but also be able to speak for those who do not have the ability to do so,” Grano attested. “The program struck me as amazing, and an incredible opportunity to be part of the bigger picture, [to] help eradicate some of the issues going on in the world ... I had previously seen the committee in action at other conferences, and I wanted to be a part of the team that is aimed at helping the youth get more involved.”
Anthony praised Palmer’s efforts to bring the program to St. Mary School.
“[Palmer] is such an innovative thinker – he sees the development of a mini global institute in St. Mary’s … most [elementary] schools just have the ‘Model U.N.,’” Anthony said. “Students need to own their skills, because that’s when they really understand the relevance of how impactful they can be in building safer and more caring communities.”
The initiative has already begun, with plans to include some St. Mary’s eighth-graders in the upcoming trip to the U.N. for the Sept. 21 International Day of Peace Conference. “It’s a springboard, more than anything,” Anthony said. “They’ll get the inside view.”
“We’re going to introduce the program this year,” said Palmer. “We already have a student ambassador program, who will be the face of the school, and we’ll likely start by drawing from that pool. I’m hoping that they start thinking [globally] now, and it might set them on a course that they continue in college.”
Curriculum that GLI would present for primarily sixth through eighth grade St. Mary’s students includes instruction on how to be a positive leader in community, anti-bullying and peacebuilding.
“We’re also interested in visiting other middle schools in the area that want to have a global institute,” Anthony emphasized. “We can do middle school training workshops for both faculty and students in Monmouth and Middlesex counties.”
Sheridan believes that middle school students are at an age when they are aware of what is happening around them and want to be a part of the change, but don’t yet have the tools to do so.
“We are working to bring our program into the middle schools in order to expose them to a way of thinking that can change their lives,” she explained. “By teaching peace at a young age, the students will grow in the knowledge that they can help others ... The main thing I hope students take away … is that no one can stop them from making a difference.”[[In-content Ad]]