A Model Student

Every year, high school students around the world gather to participate in a club focused on diplomacy, international relations, and the United Nations. For almost 100 years, Model United Nations, also known as Model UN, has given students the opportunity to learn how to research, debate, write, critically think, and work together. For many Academy students, the Model UN experience isn’t just a way to appease their academic requirements; rather, it has unlocked passions they barely knew existed, built skills that will last a lifetime. And for some it has pushed them towards careers in politics, government, and more.
The Model UN club’s main goal is to give members a simulation of the United Nations through which delegates debate, collaborate, and attempt to solve wide-ranging international issues. The club's Lead advisor is English Teacher Theresa West, with the help of Director of the Writing Center Wendy Swift and History Teacher Jennifer Dillon. West reminisced, “When I first started, we held sessions in the evenings right before study hall. That spring, Patrick Brown, who was an eighth grader at the time and now a senior, attended the Kingswood Oxford Model United Nations Middle School conference and won best delegate. It was a good start.” Brown will be attending Yale University in the fall.
Conferences are where students get to put what they’ve learned to good use. In January 2013, West brought 16 students to Yale for the annual Model UN conference, which the club has attended each year since. In addition to Yale, Choate Rosemary Hall also holds a mini-conference, which the Academy has attended for the last two years. Cheshire Academy itself has held conferences on topics like gun control and drone use. In November, the club held a mini conference with Cheshire High School on the topic of the Syrian Refugee Crisis. In addition to domestic conferences, in 2015 a small group from the Academy traveled to Haileybury and Imperial Service College in England, which hosts the largest Model UN conference in their country. Students were given the opportunity to attend the conference and participate, and several even came home with a few awards for best delegates.

“In the Model UN club, students learn through their active participation in conferences. Returning students teach new club members the skills and knowledge they need in order to participate effectively at conferences,” said West. “A student might address an audience of over 300 students in a committee at Yale. Our practice conferences help students gain confidence in their ability to think on their feet and to express their ideas clearly. Students work together to develop written resolutions that address global crises.”

Working together and meeting new students are just a few of the major reasons students decide to join the club. “My favorite aspect would have to be the students in the club and the other delegates at the conferences,” said Regina McCoy ’17. “Most kids our age are more worried about clothes, social media, and gossip, whereas in Model UN you’re surrounded by young people who care about global issues and want to make the world a better place.” Zoe Genden ’19, a second-year club member, added by saying, “I get to develop a lot of new skills, like public speaking, debate, and research, while meeting many different people. I also enjoy listening and talking to such a diverse group of people, and eventually you create a network of friends from all different backgrounds and schools.”

With all the reasons students have joined the club, it’s Brown, the current Club President, who summed it up best. “I remember a time during my first conference at Yale when, after two days of debate, the room had finally drafted a resolution that seemed to solve everything we’d been working on. The vote passed unanimously and a palpable wave of relief washed over the room. That, to me, is Model UN at its best," he explained. "Even though we had been debating fiercely for hours on end, we were all there to cooperate, and at the end of the day, it was immensely satisfying to see our work pay off, even if only in simulation.”
For many students, returning to the club after their first year is not uncommon. “I have been participating in the club for three years,” said McCoy, who started her sophomore year. Brown, who has served as president for three years, has been in the program now for five years, having joined when he was in the eighth grade. Brown said, “The reason I’ve stayed as involved in Model UN as I have for as long is the dedication of the community. I’ve never met a group of young people as dedicated to engaging in their ideas at such a high level as I have throughout Model UN conferences. The energy and commitment that each of us bring to debate is what makes the process so worthwhile.”

The impact the club is having on students is evidenced by the fact that many of them are thinking about continuing their education in similar areas of study. Even though Genden is only in her second year of Model UN, she is currently the club’s secretary and thinking about a future related to it. “As of now, I can see myself going into government or politics as I think those topics are really fascinating,” she said. “I’m currently a sophomore and interested in majoring in political science.” Brown, who will be heading to Yale University in the fall, is also thinking about a related major saying, “Examining international relations through the lens of Model UN has piqued my interest; I’m looking into a global affairs major as a result.”
Even more intriguing are students like Julia Rafferty ’18, whose interests aren't usually associated with governments. “I have a very strong passion for musical theater and government, which may seem very different, but they really aren’t.” said Rafferty. She goes on to describe how both subject areas require her to be able to hold herself in front of a large crowd and perform. In addition, she describes how passion plays a large role in both foreign affairs, which she can see herself studying in college along with musical theater. Rafferty joined her freshman year and is interested in foreign affairs, international relations, fighting for social justice, and public speaking.

While current students continue to figure out if politics and government are the right fit for them, alumni who were in Model UN have utilized what they learned and are taking those passions to the next level. “The Academy’s Model UN provided a healthy appreciation for the mechanics and procedural processes of both governmental and international organizations, like the United Nations,” said Thomas Cavaliere ’15. “Without the hard work—and fun, of course—at our conferences, I would be without the skills needed to tackle my internships in the European Parliament and the Unites States Senate, where I am now.” Cavaliere is currently studying international affairs at American University and has interned with the European Parliament with Czech MEP Miroslav Poche, who is a Member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. He is currently interning in Senator Richard Blumenthal’s Office (D-CT) in the U.S. Senate. Read more about Cavaliere's experiences on page 64.

Recent graduate and salutatorian Paola Fortes Fernandez ’16, who is studying international studies and focusing on Latin America at the University of Michigan, clearly remembers the Model UN’s role in continuing her education. “My dream is to someday work at the United Nations, primarily the Development Programme, Children’s Fund;, or Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization,” she said. “Being a leader and delegate of Model UN has not only taught me the parliamentary procedures of the United Nations, but it has also taught me important life skills such as public speaking and how to develop a successful argument.” Fortes even recalls a very special opportunity that was presented to her while at the Academy: “Because of my involvement in Model UN and other extracurricular activities, I was actually invited to be a part of the Mexican delegation at the UN General Assembly. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go as it would have required me to miss more than a month of school, but I owe part of this achievement to the Academy’s Model UN club.”

ffairs are important, for some students the Model UN experience opened up a yearning to make the world a better place through diplomatic means. Guillermo Garcia Montenegro ’13 remembers his time in Model UN. “First, it gave me a more nuanced perspective as to how governments interact with one another in the international arena,” he stated. “Second, it also proved to me the pivotal role that multilateral organizations, like the UN, play in sustaining world peace and overseeing the actions of sovereign states within their borders.” Montenegro is attending Kenyon College for international studies and sociology. As he continues with his studies, he’s realized the many complexities and obstacles that are present in international politics. However, this has motivated Montenegro to immerse himself further not only in his studies, but also with real-world experiences.

In addition to studying related fields in college, students are also finding new clubs that extend their passions. “In college, I am taking courses in public policy, and I am heavily involved in my school’s Amnesty International club, which is part of the world’s largest human rights organization,” said Shannon Lewis ’16. “I took the skills I learned from Model UN to Washington, D.C. this November, where I lobbied for The Refugee Protection Act of 2016 on behalf of Amnesty.” Lewis was also a Rizzolo-Larson Venture Grant winner during her time at the Academy and took the “International Human Rights & Politics” course at Yale during the summer between her junior and senior years.

The impact of Model UN has also helped some students to unlock new passions they might not have discovered. Demi Vitkute ’13 from Lithuania remembers, “I was in the Press Corps committee at the Yale conference and it was the first time I felt the intensity of a press room during breaking news, even though it was simulated. And here I am today, still pursuing journalism.” Vitkute is currently working towards her master’s degree in journalism at Columbia University and is co-founder of an online publication dubbed “The Urban Watch Magazine.” According to the Vitkute, the magazine looks at “the culture, fashion, business, and people of New York and London.”

Another example of finding new passions includes Gabriel Bradley ’14, who’s studying at State University of New York, Purchase. “Model UN was a vital opportunity for me during high school … because it exposed me to and inspired me toward social activism,” he said. “As a person of color living today in this country, it is essential to be aware, informed, and prepared to take action.”

While high schools across the country continue to offer a variety of clubs for students, none might be as successful in ushering students into the world of politics, government, and international relations as the Model UN. For Cheshire Academy students, it appears the club is well on its way to producing some of the world’s greatest politicians, leaders, writers, and humanitarians.
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