By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — While leaders across the world tackle important issues, more than 800 students here are doing the same.

They are taking part in a Model United Nations conference in downtown Minneapolis. This marks the 32nd year the YMCA has held the Youth in Government event.

This year, they had more students turn-out than ever before.

The sound of a gavel means court is in session, in this case, an “International Court of Justice,” where Minnesota students are the ones deciding global issues.

“We are proud that it’s the largest we’ve ever hosted for greater Minnesota,” YMCA’s Kate Whitby said.

There are more than 800 seventh through twelfth graders participating. But no matter what school they come from, when they step inside, they’re representing people from other parts of the world.

Students get to pick their country ahead of time. And before they arrive they have to learn everything about that country they can.

“If they are China, they represent China. If they are the United States, they represent the United States. If they are Italy, they represent what that country believes in as a whole and what the politicians in that country believe,” Whitby said.

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(credit: CBS)

The challenge is two-fold, to stay in character and to come together.

“It’s a good way to bond with other delegates who are interested in the same international topics you are,” Irene Choi, a junior from Eden Prairie, said.

While they debate everything from nuclear energy to trade and environmental issues, organizers are seeing another first.

More than 40 percent of students taking part this year are students of color. Some say they were inspired by recent youth-led movements across the country.

“I think that gives kids a better idea of what our voices can do when we have the space and opportunity to use our voices for something that’s so big, like Model U.N.,” Alyse Dees, a junior from Burnsville, said.

“We are eager to give them a space here where they can develop leadership and listening skills and the core values that they need that are going to make them successful in the real world when they are debating these issues,” Whitby said.

The Model United Nations conference will run through Saturday at the Marriott City Center in downtown Minneapolis.

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