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Reflections from U.N.: Building Educational Infrastructure for the Commission on the Status of Women

Posted on May 1, 2018, by Loretto Community

From left, Loretto Community U.N. NGO representative Beth Blissman, UNANIMA International director Jean Quinn and Kathy Baldwin-Heitman gather at the United Nations on the opening of the 2018 Commission on Social Development.
(Photo courtesy of Kathy Baldwin-Heitman)

By Kathy Baldwin-Heitman

You’re 17. It is your first time in New York City. You have a BIG job to do. Are you prepared?

Imagine yourself a junior or senior in high school. You have been accepted to serve as a delegate to the United Nations by the Loretto Community to the upcoming Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York City! It sounds amazing — and you likely have many important questions:

  • What is New York City really like? Glamorous? Scary? Crowded? Exciting?
  • I have heard of the United Nations, but what do they really do there? What does it mean to serve as a delegate? Why and how is the Loretto Community a part of it?
  • What is a commission? Why have there already been 62 previous commissions on the subject of the status of women? How does this fit with what I already know about sexism? feminism? oppression? What are the topics that will be covered?
  • This seems big! How will this experience impact my life?

The list of questions could go on and on …

This is the lens through which I recently spent 10 days in New York City as a Loretto at the UN delegate for the Commission for Social Development. My participation was intended to serve two purposes. First, I wished to further my own education about how the United Nations functions, to learn about its processes and structures through an immersive experience. Secondly, I was to participate through the lens of student and educator, with the hoped-for outcome to assist in the development of a preparatory curriculum for high school and college students who attend as delegates each spring to the Commission on the Status of Women.

It was not my first time in New York, or at the United Nations, or to serve as a Loretto at the UN delegate. However, it had been more than five years prior to my return, and it felt brand new in many, many ways. As the former head of school at Kansas City Academy, I previously had had the pleasure of bringing students to New York to experience CSW.

The first time we attended, it would be an understatement to say it was overwhelming — the city, the people, the topics, the implications. The experience was transformative in that it propelled all of us (adults and students alike) to think in a much bigger, more global way. We would return to Kansas City expanded, shifted, forever clear that there is much to do in the world, and that we each have a responsibility to engage. My experience this time further expanded my understanding of the essential work at the United Nations. It underscored for me how the way the work is accomplished may seem complex, even overly complex at times, but that is what real creative, collegial and collaborative decision-making looks like. It requires patience and commitment to the process and for me is the basis for hope.

As to the second reason for my participation, to help future students and chaperones to feel less overwhelmed and enable them to more quickly engage in the “so what” part of the experience, four of us formed a small U.N. Curriculum Committee. Committee members include Beth Blissman (Loretto’s U.N. NGO representative), Sherry Warren (assistant professor of social work at Clarke University and second-year chaperone), returning Loretto Volunteer NGO U.N. intern Mary Louise Pabello and me. During my visit to New York, we successfully initiated the development of the curriculum. We now plan to expand the work through a post-CSW Google survey and also by inviting several students and chaperones who already have had the immersion experience to work with us as advisers as we proceed. We hope to have at least a pilot set of lesson plans available for the next class of delegates as they prepare for their 2019 CSW visit. It takes an incredible amount of work to prepare and to provide this significant immersion experience to more than 60 students and chaperones each year, but I can think of no better way to encourage young leaders to begin taking initiative to make positive change.

We also are exploring a very exciting new technology called Core Atlas, introduced to us by Paul Bulakowski, a co-founder of a fairly new enterprise called Mind My Education. Paul and his team are working with the concept of mapping individual learning quests as a means to achieve learning goals. This technology is incredibly exciting and could help to make our approach to the pre-work for U.N. visits a truly remarkable and wonderful part of the experience itself.

I firmly believe the work we do at the United Nations is a clear expression of Loretto’s impact in the world, and it serves as an important means for providing significant, global and experiential learning for the Loretto Community and beyond. I highly recommend a New York visit to experience firsthand how Loretto is making an important, positive difference in the world through our participation at the United Nations.

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