Aspen High students get global with Model U.N. Club
ASPEN – Are you smarter than a fifth-grader? Maybe.
But odds are you’re not smarter – at least not when it comes to international relations – than a group of 37 Aspen High School students headed to Chicago this week for a Model United Nations simulation.
“It’s really cool to see the kids in this role,” said teacher Matt Wells, who supervises the school’s Model U.N. Club. “By joining the club, they are stepping outside the box. When they go to the simulation, they get to show just how much they’ve learned and know, which, by the way, is pretty impressive.”
Don’t believe it? Try your luck at these questions, which are perhaps the simplest the group of students – who range in age from freshmen to seniors – know the answers to:
“What is the capital of Kazakhstan?”
“Where is Suriname?”
“What is the currency of Mozambique?”
(The answers: Astana, South America and the Mozambican metical, respectively.)
Kazakhstan, Suriname and Mozambique are the countries Aspen High will represent at the University of Chicago-sponsored simulation, which takes place Thursday through Sunday.
But Model U.N. comprises far more than rote memorization.
Students in the club meet weekly – and at 7 a.m., no less – to study diplomacy and international relations, learn about history and current events, research and write position papers and more. When they are told the countries they will represent in Chicago, they dig in even deeper.
The students have to, Wells said, because the simulation demands it. In addition to being part of the general assembly and sitting on standing economic and social committees, some students are given special assignments. Others actually model U.N. delegates. Plus, students must submit position papers to the university before they arrive for the simulation.
“The topics are different every year, and our assignments are different every year, but they can range from a committee looking at intellectual-property rights to nuclear disarmament to post-conflict reconstruction,” said Wells, adding that the students who join the Model U.N. Club are a diverse group, though a few are “history geeks” and many do go on to study international relations at the college level. “They really do what the actual U.N. does, so it can be daunting.
“These kids are dealing with current events and serious issues, and they are charged with finding viable solutions. It is challenging.”
Of course studying for the simulation is not the only challenge kids in the Model U.N. Club must tackle. As an extracurricular club, Model U.N. receives no school funding. Students must pay their own way to the Chicago event, which carries a price tag of about $700 for travel, lodging, food and fees.
“For some students, this is a true difficulty,” said Wells, noting that the high school chooses, in part, to go only to the Chicago simulation because of the cost. “We do some small-scale fundraising, but we’d like to partner with local organizations or businesses to be sure that all the kids who want to be part of the club, and who put in the work, can join us in Chicago. It is really an important event for them and for the club.”
And while there are now awards given at the simulation, there are plenty of rewards. For Wells, this is part of the club’s appeal.
“Students are recognized for speaking and performance, but there are no awards,” he said. “Diplomacy is not about beating anybody. The idea is collaboration and working together, so this is not a competition, and I personally like that.”
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