Tuesday, April 13, 2010

U.N. program piques global interests


TRAVERSE CITY -- Participating in Model United Nations while at Traverse City West Senior High School piqued Jamie Schaub's interest in global environmental issues.

The 2008 West graduate now attends Kalamazoo College, where she's majoring in psychology. She lined up a summer internship with a local environmental nonprofit and plans to study abroad in Thailand in the fall.

"I always knew that I was interested in kind of international work, but I wasn't really sure what it would be," Schaub said.

In-depth study of Costa Rica for Model U.N. opened her eyes, led to more research and travel.

"I kind of got some new information about environmental issues globally," she said.

Kerry Fleet, a 2006 West graduate, spent two high school years on Model U.N., learning about countries such as Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was her first intense study of Africa, and when she enrolled at Michigan State University she added an African studies focus to her art education courses. Fleet lived in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, last year and wants to join the Peace Corps.

Model U.N. seems to attract, or perhaps shape, these globally curious, world-traveling high-achievers. And, Traverse City West's Model U.N. program is among the finest. The high school recently won a Best Prepared School award for the fifth consecutive year at the Mid-American Model United Nations competition in Kalamazoo.

Leading the diplomacy dynasty is teacher and advisor Charles Rennie, who guided a 50-student team this school year.

"They put in a lot of time," Rennie said. "The awards are kind of like an after-glow of just how prepared they are and how well they do."

To ready for competition, the group spends hours researching countries assigned to students and writes hundreds of pages of papers. More than two dozen schools participated at the Kalamazoo contest, where students act as United Nations ambassadors. The role-playing delegates represent their nations' interests during debates about real-life topics that the actual U.N. faces. Students meet in committees, draft resolutions and convince students who represent opposing countries or viewpoints to side with them.

Students said the exercise teaches research and public speaking skills; tests their own political pre-conceptions, powers of persuasion and peace-making abilities; builds teamwork and forces them to listen carefully and think quickly.

"You really improve your social skills. People are not going to listen to the guy who stands in a corner," said Charlie Pacer, a member of the current West team.

Aaron Madison, who won the recent contest's highest individual honor for her work, said Model U.N. gave her a reason to delve into topics she normally wouldn't deal with as "an 18-year-old girl in Traverse City." That's as much a valuable opportunity as it is "a lesson in leadership," she said.

"Model U.N., it's not just good for foreign relations. It's good for everything," said fellow student Chase Wagner.

Many of Rennie's former students, like Schaub and Fleet, remain interested in global issues. Rennie said the experience prepares them for the future -- from succeeding in college, speaking to the city commission, writing a letter to a newspaper editor or furthering their career. Current students said Model U.N. is also great for the short-term.

"The fun you have and the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that you get from working with friends is pretty much worth it," said West's Jason Heder Petit-Frere.

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