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Preparing for the Real World

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Preparing for the Real World

SHS Students Participate in Model United Nations

It’s early December and dress-rehearsal day in social studies instructor Debbie Smith’s Sandpoint High School Model United Nations class. Sophia Meulenberg gets rave reviews from classmates and adults while modeling her elegant three-piece ensemble from Pakistan.  
The black, flowing pants, under tunic and hand-crafted, beaded over tunic, given to her by her aunt, is not only stunning but perfect for the students’ upcoming International “eclectically elegant appetizer extravaganza” at Talus Rock Retreat Center.  The event is a special fundraiser for a their trip to the NHS-MUN national conference at the United Nations in New York City from March 18-21.  
Sophia also explains to the class how she came up with her chosen appetizer, “samosas,” which she intends to bring to the International Night event in early December. She had learned of a Pakistani family living in Sandpoint, the Saieds.
“My mother knows Raffat Saied... she told me that I should call him and his wife Muzna to ask for a recipe,” Sophia explained in a recent River Journal interview. “Before I could call them, however, my mother ran into Raffat (known by his last name, Saied) and... explained that I needed a recipe.
“Instead of just giving me a recipe, he actually invited me over to his house to try a sample of multiple appetizers made by his wife,” she added. “[Later] We went over to Saied’s house and Muzna had prepared a multitude of things to taste....”
During the visit, Sophia could sample the array of hors d’oeurves prepared by her hostess, then decide which she liked best and Mrs. Saied would help her prepare it correctly. In addition, the entire Meulenberg family and other guests enjoyed an evening of cultural enrichment.
“I was able to talk to them about their Pakistani culture and all different topics that I found fascinating,” Sophia said. “I’ll be returning to their house to learn how to make the samosas (ground beef with spices such as cumin and cilantro, combined with green peas, wrapped in wonton paper/pastry shell and served with mint chutney sauce).
Meanwhile, finishing her classroom presentation, Sophia sits down, and students (from tenth through twelfth grade), dressed in costumes representing Russia, Sweden, France, Mexico, etc., take turns in the reviewing spotlight as their MUN peers, their teacher, Mrs. Smith, SHS cheerleading coach Bo Whitley and parent Heather Pederson suggest ways to improve the costumes and  to greet guests in each country’s respective language.  On this day, another parent, Beth Hawkins, snaps photos for publicity.
Student Matt Charbonneau is in charge of tickets to the International Night. In an earlier class session, he distributed them to the class, advising each student to sell at least two ($30 for singles/$50 for couples), and adding a warning, “Do not lose your tickets, or you will pay for them.”  On dress rehearsal day, Matt is still collecting ticket money for the upcoming event.
On Monday, December 8, ticket holders enjoyed a night with international flair and flavor at the luxurious Talus Center Retreat in West Sandpoint. It was an “amazing success,” Smith said.  Heather Pederson, facility owner, concurred.
“Every person involved in this production executed their task with attention to detail and professionalism,” Pedersen wrote in a congratulatory email following the event. “I heard multiple comments on what ‘fun’ it was, how ‘great’ the auction looked, comments on the ‘quality of procurements and how the kids ‘sparkled’.”
This event, netting nearly $2,000 through ticket sales and a silent auction of donated items, is just one of many organized throughout the fall to raise the needed $36,000 for 28 students, their teacher and chaperones to attend the conference.
Taking on such a monumental challenge has clearly required “a village” to support the effort.  Students, educators, parents, business owners, school district leaders, civic organizations and individual donors continue to step forward with financial and in-kind donations in reaching the rigorous goals.  
So far, the MUN class has held bake sales, worked concessions, sold raffle tickets and copies of a locally produced coffee-table book. They’ve attended numerous civic meetings to raise awareness and funds for their project.  
“We had to earn $672 each,” says senior Michelle Stone. “This covers the entry fee into the conference as well as plane tickets. We have to earn extra money still for food and any extra costs we encounter.”
SHSMUN students also received guidance in a variety of disciplines from local volunteers and facilities. Recently, they spent part of a school day at East Bonner County Library where Susan Bates-Harbuck led them through  a session on research strategies.
“It was a wonderful partnership between SHS and East Bonner County Library,” Smith says. “They opened the library early for us, and we had all the computers to ourselves from 8 to 10 am. Susan set up the whole thing and deserves big kudos for being impressively prepared for us.”  
In addition to student fundraising efforts, the MUN project, in its first year ever at SHS, has received some significant donations, including a huge initial boost of $16,925 through a Panhandle Alliance for Education “Big Idea” grant, written and submitted by Debbie Smith last spring.
The grant, according to a PAFE news release, extends three years as Smith develops the class format, which “simulates the United Nations through interactive and interdisciplinary means, placing students in the role of official UN delegates.” Smith’s students will represent the African countries of Ethiopia and Djibouti at the MUN conference.
“Course content includes current events, pressing international issues, the basics of international law and some of the protocol and procedures of diplomacy which will prepare students to participate in the New York conference,” the PAFE release states.
Smith, in her fourteenth year as an SHS social science instructor, has worked with MUN classes in California.  In those cases, MUN activities were funded through the school districts, which, she says,  “were ecstatic to have teachers willing to put in the work involved... and paid for student costs.
“In my early teaching years, I organized political science clubs at the two high schools where I taught and involved students in mock trial competitions, Model Congress, Model United Nations and National History Day competition,” Smith explains. “I have always thought SHS should offer our students an opportunity to participate in these national social studies activities.”
Several years ago, she even wrote a course description for such a class. It remained but a dream until last year when parent Lydia Stitsel, who’d heard about MUN from a relative, wrote to principal Dr. Becky Kiebert inquiring about the possibility a similar program being instituted at SHS.
The ball started rolling. Smith checked for student interest and received overwhelming response.
“I was surprised and heartened at how many parents said they would pay the full amount of the cost of the trip,” she says.  She also received enthusiastic blessings from Dr. Kiebert and school district superintendent Dr. Dick Cvitanich prior to applying for the PAFE grant.
As the program develops, SHS students will be able to take MUN class for four years. Smith says the class resembles the SHS Academic Decathlon program. Eventual plans call for upper class students to attend national conferences and for ninth and tenth graders taking the class as a prerequisite and possibly attending a regional MUN conference.
“National High School MUN conferences began 35 years ago,” according to Nick Stefanizzi, Secretary-General for the 2009 NHSMUN gathering.
“For over a quarter of a century,” Stefanizzi writes in a welcoming letter to delegates,  “NHSMUN has simulated international diplomacy with the mandate of educating high school delegates from across the globe about real-world solutions to some of the most eminent crises that threaten the political stability of our increasingly-globalized society.”  
When the students arrive New York, they’ll be armed with information dealing with convention committee topics such as Conventional Arms, Myanmar, Conflict in Western Sahara, Building Accountability within the United Nations, etc.  
The class is divided into two groups each representing either Ethiopia or Djibouti, both countries in the horn of Africa.  Within the groups, student pairs are researching committee topics and gaining thorough understanding of the topic.  
In mid-February, the students will also mail in country reports to conference committee chairs, with each submission following strict MUN rules. Then, the class will spend the next month simulating their actual responsibilities while participating at the conference.
“Students have to thoroughly understand the topic:  world, regional and their own country’s opinion on the issue,” Smith explains. “They are not allowed to pre-write resolutions as they are supposed to write up the resolutions (proposed solutions to the problem) at the conference.”
This preparation includes Smith’s guidance on research, proper wording of a resolution, protocol and appropriate attire, required during the conference.
“The opening and closing ceremonies happen at the United Nations headquarters in New York City,” Smith adds. “It’s a massive undertaking. I’m excited about this. I’m not sure I realized how time consuming this would be for me. I do know, however, that the first year of doing anything is the hardest, so that keeps me going....”
If former SHS teacher Mike Flaim’s assessment of the program is any indication of its potential for students, Smith and her class could be considered respected pioneers as SHS-MUN continues to develop.
Since leaving Sandpoint, Flaim has taught for five years at The American School of The Hague in the Netherlands where the student population of 1,065 represents 64 nationalities. He has coached a MUN delegation.
“I was asked to help out with MUN my first year at ASH,” Flaim says. “We have three weekend events in the year and one enormous event in January in The Hague (3,000-plus kids).
MUN is valuable preparation for the real world,” he adds, “from product and process to presentation, it attempts to mirror the real UN... the program trains [kids] in public speaking and debate, gives them the chance to defend their views or event take on views that differ from their own.  That process helps their world view.
“It is a great test of intelligence and conviction to debate an issue of profound importance in the world,” he says.  “From Darfur to Sudanese pirates; from Global Warming to drilling for oil in Antarctica; from Financial Crisis to International Trade Relations, these kids take on extremely important issues.  It’s a great opportunity to deeply understand issues.”
Flaim encourages the Sandpoint community to continue its generous support of SHS-MUN.
“No high school program offers students such deep involvement in and understanding of law.  Add this program, fund this program, watch your students sink their teeth into truly profound issues for our future and their own,” he says.   “Sandpoint is not in a capital city. It is difficult to see law in action and difficult to find its relevance to real issues. MUN provides that opportunity.”
Anyone wishing to contribute time or financial donations to SHSMUN can contact Smith at Sandpoint High School, 410 South Division, Sandpoint, ID 83864, telephone 208-263-3034. Donations are tax deductible.

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Marianne Love Marianne Love is a freelance writer and former English teacher who enjoys telling the stories of her community. She has authored several books, the latest of which is "Lessons With Love."

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