Model UN takes on virtual, in-person competitions with rigorous preparation
At least every school day, students part of Model UN at Bellefonte Area High School are working to prepare for the next conference. It comes with months of hard work, dedication and tapping into understanding the material at hand, so they can argue in support of the country they are assigned to.
With some competitions already held this school year, the team is preparing for two more, April 8-9 – a virtual one through Youngstown State University and another at Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport – both which they’ve competed at in the past, in addition to other conferences virtually and in-person in Boston, Erie, New York, Philadelphia, Ohio and Toronto. These events are made a reality in part by a grant through the UN Association of Centre County, in addition to various fundraising efforts.
“Preparation is two-fold,” said Ed Fitzgerald, social studies teacher and Model UN faculty adviser. “They research the topic, so they understand the material and then have to research a country’s perspective on that material.”
Research includes learning about decisions countries have already made, topics and issues supported by respective countries, allies and adversaries of that country, and working on a mindset to form alliances at the conferences because the end goal is to have a peaceful resolution to world problems.
Model UN is a club that follows the framework and structure of the actual United Nations. In the club, students either choose or are assigned a country to represent. They then must argue from that country’s perspective on various topics depending on what committee they’re a part of.
“You may end up being China in a human rights committee, so you have to suppress your beliefs to learn from that country’s perspective and argue from that perspective against other fellow high school students in similar situations,” Fitzgerald said as he was providing an example.
It also sometimes aligns with current events, which are often studied in social studies classes at school.
“Educators cannot be shy on topics,” said Fitzgerald, who is also the social studies department chairman. “We’d be doing a disservice to our students by not acknowledging what they’re interested in and what’s going on around them. On behalf of the social studies department, we talk about all the different topics that are going on at the moment. Every one of us do a variation on current events, but a really good teacher will tie the events that are going on into whatever curriculum is because it makes it more real.”
Current events in school
Current events affect all parts of social studies, from economics, to world history, to psychology and more.
Chris Morris teaches AP Psychology, AP European history, U.S. 601 and 20th century U.S. history. When information consumes the news, she said she immediately comes up with a lesson to give background on that topic that includes what is currently happening, why it’s happening at the moment and how history has played a factor. In fact, she said current events is one of the main focuses of her classes, while providing students with the understanding that history is not stagnant.
“We’re able to talk about something like what’s going on in Ukraine right now and see it in real time,” Morris explains. “It ties into Attribution Theory, which explains something based on that person’s personality or situation, which creates different viewpoints. We stick with the facts, but can also add in other things like why people have feelings the way that they do. That is the crux of our department.”
Morris said she uses that to get the point across that even though there are differences in opinions of others, the way to move forward as a society is to come together despite those differences.
While fact is taught, opinion is also encouraged.
“From an educator’s point of view, my opinions are irrelevant, but students are entitled to all their opinions,” Fitzgerald said. “What I try to do is help them back up that opinion with fact. That is the key because anyone can say anything, but that’s not what life is going to be like. You must be able to prove your position. It’s fine to have those feelings, but if you want to actually be able to really understand the topics, then you have to be able to prove it.”
And those are the lessons that teachers said often spark healthy class discussions.
“A really good teacher won’t just have open discussion, but will relate it back to that curriculum itself because it makes it more real and meaningful,” Fitzgerald said. “The social studies department does a good job of relating real-world moments to whatever the discipline is.”
Bellefonte Area High School offers a variety of social studies classes that include general, elective, Advanced Placement and College in High School courses. That encompasses history, economics, government, politics, geography, psychology and more. To see a full list, visit this link: Social studies classes. You may also learn more about the social studies department, here: BAHS social studies department.
By having these discussions, teachers also said it not only helps students to understand the material from different aspects, but also helps provide students with answers to their questions and concerns.
“They have thoughts and opinions and questions and concerns and fears,” Fitzgerald said. “The best way to answer the question and alleviate some of their fears is by knowledge. Call me ‘old school,’ but knowledge is power. The more we can help teach them, then the more you can end up feeling more comfortable with the information.”
*By Brit Milazzo, public relations director, BASD