By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
The Marshall Islands are located in the Pacific Ocean. Its flag is blue, orange and white with a white sun in the lefthand corner. It was designed by Emlain Kabua, who served as first lady of the republic.
These are just some of the facts Synia, a fourth grader at Albert Story School, shared with visitors during the MPS World Fair.
Synia is one of about 3,000 Milwaukee Public Schools students who participated in this year’s fair at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, 400 W. Kilbourn Ave., on Wednesday, April 19. The fair is a part of the United Nations Schools of International Learning Program, where students learn about different countries, cultures, and sustainability efforts.
UNSIL began in 2016 with nine schools under the leadership of former MPS Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver, who first learned of the idea from Joan Robertson of the Annette J. Roberts and Joan R. Robertson Fund for World Peace, World Law and Peace Education. The program now exists in 14 schools.
Annette Robertson, Joan’s daughter, explained that 10 years ago, her mother had a dream to see Model UN in middle schools. The mother-daughter duo had tea with Driver and from there, the UNSIL program and ensuing fair were born.
“My mother, Joan Robertson, had this dream and this idea and she’s still living at 106 and can’t be here, but is very excited about it,” she said. “I’m thrilled that it continues on. It’s really exciting that they’re learning about the UN and what the UN does worldwide with sustainability goals and how the UN will be valuable in the future.”
Each grade focuses on a different topic. For example, fourth graders such as Synia, learn about the different countries, in fifth grade they learn about sustainability goals, in sixth grade it’s the organ agencies of the United Nations such as the General Assembly and the Security Council, in seventh grade the focus is a public service announcement with sustainability goals and eighth grade is a community project.
“The exciting thing is that if you ask any child here at the World Fair about their country or what they studied, they’re so excited [and] they’re so empowered,” Annette Robertson said. “They learn a lot about geography and a lot about culture and economics. Things that they normally don’t get in school.”
She continued, “They become world citizens and compassionate toward children and people of other countries.”
Annette Robertson is currently a volunteer for the United Nations Association of Greater Milwaukee. The program is exciting, she said, noting that it offers hands-on and practical education. She hopes it will be extended to the high school level.
The project spurs students’ interest in visiting other countries and sparks their concern, she said.
“They become global citizens, and nobody can take that away from them,” Annette Robertson said. “Once they’re a global citizen, they’ll always be that and feel that and feel empowered and feel that they can make changes in the world, that they can make changes locally and help others.”
They’ll feel inspired to serve in a truly humanitarian way, she said.
“The UN is so involved in many countries all over the world and we want the children to learn about the UN,” Annette Robertson said. “Many of them know the UN because they have been refugees from other countries before they came to Milwaukee, and they have been helped by the UN.”
In addition to the presentations on various countries, students could receive stickers from the various stations, play games, learn about sustainability efforts and more. The MPS World Fair also included a fashion show – where students showcased outfits seen around the world.
Dr. Keith Posley, the current superintendent of MPS, was in attendance at the fair and praised the students for the work.
“You are truly peacemakers,” he said. “Keep up the good work.”