United Nations “Delegates” from New Paltz and Highland High Schools Summit for Peace
Approximately 40 students from the New Paltz High School (NPHS) and Highland High School (HHS) Model UN clubs recently attended a Model United Nations (UN) Conference at NPHS to investigate, and propose solutions to, global issues affecting the world today. The participants assumed the roles of delegates and moderators to learn more about how the UN operates.
Model UN club officers moderated mock discussions and debates in a simulated caucus. Other students, who were randomly assigned a country to represent as a “delegate,” were tasked with becoming familiar with that nation’s politics, background, policies, and points of view within the context of the issues being considered on the UN floor.
The student delegates aimed to create and pass a resolution on one of the current UN topics. The New Paltz and Highland students chose to address such pressing issues as immigration, food insecurity, peacekeeping, and climate change. Opening remarks were given by Kerhonkson community member and Ukrainian refugee Olesya “Lesia” Kotsyumbas.
NPHS Model UN club advisor and Social Studies teacher James Gill said that the club has many benefits, including helping to build skills in areas like leadership, management, and public speaking. Another benefit is that the students develop a working knowledge of Robert’s Rules of Order—the rules of engagement and discourse typically employed in the UN, courthouses, and public meetings.
During a discussion on the global refugee crisis, New Paltz Grade 12 student Kyle Newman played the role of a delegate from the US. Addressing the room, Kyle said that he “recognized immigrants at the south of the border need a place to stay,” while warning that the US may “struggle to be able to do this for political reasons.” Acting as a delegate from Japan, New Paltz Grade 11 student Darren Chen suggested that the UN supply humanitarian aid to support countries experiencing surges of refugees. Grade 10 New Paltz student Anikka Walsh, representing Norway, drew attention to the 4.3 million refugees who fled Ukraine during the month of February. “There are so many people waiting for a safe spot,” she said.
During the exercise, the student delegates were expected to form alliances with other countries sharing similar positions or interests, in hopes of creating a bloc vote. As in the UN, they were allowed to pass notes to each other. Throughout the day, they continued to advance proposals with a view towards having a resolution that could be passed before the day’s end.
Darren Chen said that he learned a lot about international policy, public speaking, and diplomacy from the day’s events. “For instance, in terms of international policy, I was able to gain valuable insight into the strategies used by wealthy nations, such as Japan, to address global issues,” he said. “For example, Japan and the US preferred to give out foreign aid and support to non-governmental organizations rather than accepting refugees into their own nation.”
HHS Grade 9 participant Rylie Klein said that she had not expected that the two opposing blocs would ultimately arrive at similar solutions. “It really did surprise me because it feels as though in the real UN, every country wants something different and won’t agree on many solutions," she said. “But in a room of Model UN delegates representing different countries, they could find solutions and they were actually mostly the same.”
Highland’s Model UN club president, Grade 12 student Alisha Mokal, said that the club has had a major impact on her. “Model UN expands the lens through which I view world issues by providing thought-provoking perspectives on each country's viewpoint in the context of their history, economic development, and culture,” she said. She added that she believes that the Model UN approach, which involves research, debate, and significant efforts to understand and overcome obstacles to cooperation, may be applied to any conflict, even ones among friends or members of a community organization. “For only when we make a conscious well-intended effort to truly understand another's perspective may we channel the strength that lies in unity,” she concluded.