As world leaders gathered in New York City for the General Assembly of the United Nations this week, two students of the New Canaan High School Model United Nations Club presented their activities to the Board of Education.
At Monday's board meeting, NCHS senior and Model U.N. co-captain Juan Rivera explained that the club's team competes in tournaments around the Northeast, where the students are assigned countries and topics and asked to role play and debate.
"I got to be a conservative leader of Iran" at a recent tournament, he said.
Not only does the club teach the students about the topics they must debate, but the tournaments can provide life skills as well, fellow senior and co-captain Alejandra Zamora said.
"Model U.N. is characterized by a couple delegates -- usually Horace Mann (in the Bronx, N.Y.,) and Dalton (on the Upper East Side) -- not playing nice, by freezing people out, and it's a fact of life that these people exist in the world and we have to deal with them," she said.
The main strategy when competing in the debates is to make sure you voice your country's opinion to everyone, she said, sometimes at the expense of allowing others to be heard.
"Sounds kind of cutthroat, doesn't it?" Rivera said. "Well, it is. You have to start speaking early and speaking often. You have to identify allies. You get to meet a lot of very interesting people in these conferences. You end up learning a lot about how your relationships work, how people work."
There are 98 New Canaan students who participate in the club, which is advised by Paul Phillips, a social studies teacher at the high school. They've attended Model U.N. conferences at Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, and William and Mary, as well as several other colleges. Last year, the group took a trip to the Hague in Holland, which is one of the principal sites of the real United Nations.
"It's important to us not to stress over national ranking or over winning," Rivera said. "One of the main missions is not to win, but to develop."
The presentation was met with excitement from the Board of Education.
Chairman Alison Bedula said part of the board's responsibility is allocating money, and the presentation was a perfect example of the fruits of those resources.
"You guys are incredibly impressive," she told the students. "You represented your club well tonight. We are all allies."
Superintendent Mary Kolek added that the group's focus on educating students in all parts of life was a good example of the type of education the district wants to provide.
"Every message that you just gave to us -- rigor, relationships, self-efficacy, confidence -- you just encapsulated it so beautifully," she said. "The winning was really secondary to learning, and if you do your job well, the fruits of your labor will come."
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