Members of the Montclair High School Model Congress Club led more than 150 middle school students in debate during the 19th annual Middle School Model Congress Conference on Dec. 13. 

This was the first in-person conference in two years, according to a district press release.

About 30 high school students led the middle schoolers as they broke into groups to tackle different topics — the climate crisis, the armed forces, agriculture and more. The high schoolers acted as chair, co-chair and page to run the debates, the release says. 

The Montclair High School Model Congress Club is sponsored by Thomas Manos and William Wingren, both Civics and Government Institute history teachers, the release says. The club, with about 100 members, travels around the northeast to compete.

The event was smaller than in years past, but the clubs are rebuilding after students since remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic, Manos said. 

“It's an awesome experience for the middle schoolers,” Manos said in the release. “They've been preparing and researching the bills our students wrote for them. They get to debate with students from the other middle schools. They also have an amazing opportunity for a great introduction to MHS.”

Graham Carovillano, an eighth grade student at Buzz Middle School, said in the release he liked visiting the high school and that he wants to join the high school Model Congress team next year. 

“I like that we can speak our minds,” Carovillano said. “It's fun.”

Carovillano, who participated online in the conference as a sixth grader, was on the foreign affairs committee, the release says. He said they debated a bill about troops being placed near Iran and a bill about protecting Asian countries from a North Korean threat. 

During the event, the middle school students learned that collaboration and compromise are important life skills, Justin Bruso, a Glenfield Middle School social studies teacher, said in the release.

“Students came in with a variety of great ideas and perspectives, but they realized in order to pass meaningful legislation that amendments had to be added or eliminated to satisfy the majority of the committee,” Bruso said in the release. “I noticed that some of the middle school students were nervous to take part in the event but the high school students created a positive environment for open discourse.”

Junior Jonah Khersonsky joined Model Congress as a sixth grade student at Glenfield. Now he serves as the vice president for Model Congress, responsible for organizing much of the conference logistics, according to the release. 

“It taught me a lot about how to organize people and get them to do things on time,” Khersonsky said. “It was interesting to see the other side and be the chairs. It teaches us a lot about how to manage people, how to manage things and be a leader.”

Junior Asha Giancaspro serves as parliamentarian for Model Congress and participated in the conference during her three years at Glenfield, the release says.

“Everyone in Model Congress loves going to conferences and learning, but there is truly something special about running something yourself and being able to give something to these middle schoolers while also making them extremely happy,” Giancaspro said in the release.