OLEAN — They were asked about current events such as housing issues in East Asia and China’s detention of Uyghurs. And they were asked to formulate points of debate.
In the end, eight students from Olean High School were awarded for their knowledge and debating skills on a number of world issues during the most recent Model United Nations conference at Canisius College in Buffalo.
The Olean teams’ advisor, high school English teacher Marie Rakus, said she was very pleased that eight of the 22 Olean students did so well against hundreds of students from 18 other districts in Western New York. The two-team Olean High delegates who won awards in their councils were Alex Peterson and Mackenzie Windus, Nate Kwiatkowski and Jason Copella, Ruth Scordo and Aubrey Hulbert and Tanvi Patro and Braydon Mandel.
Rakus said the students participate in the extracurricular club outside of school hours. Therefore, the studying and work required for the program are something of a sacrifice for teenagers.
“This is open to schools that have a Model United Nations team or program,” Rakus explained. “The conferences are hosted by colleges; there are college students who are very active and organize this” in collaboration with professors at the universities.
“It’s very much student-driven — it’s run by the students, for the students,” Rakus explained. “When they are there, it’s not as if I’m there as a coach or anything. In fact, I don’t even see some of them during the day.”
She said the students who were honored did a great deal of research and preparation work prior to the event. Rakus also noted the students researched questions on current events that were provided to them prior to the conference. They are also given some pop-quiz type questions on other current events from around the world.
When asked what they get out of participating in the event, Kwiatkowski said the program “gives us an opportunity to have academic discussions in a professional environment which is really valuable for understanding current events and issues facing our world.”
Copella added, “MUN is an opportunity to meet kids from other schools with similar interests.”
Peterson also provided his opinion on the benefits of the program.
“It really helps with debate and arguing skills … and another thing it really helps with is public speaking,” he said. “If you won an award, chances are that you spoke quite a bit at a conference in front of quite a few people.”
In explaining the topics discussed, Windus said the students spoke on issues that “very much relate to what they’re doing in the actual United Nations.
“In our council specifically, we talked about the rise in anti-Semitsm and anti-Christianity,” Windus recalled. “We also discussed trying to stop global corruption.”
Windus noted she put in many hours of preparation to attend the event. In addition, she and the other students had to write position papers on two of the topics they planned to discuss, and the viewpoints of the country they were to discuss and debate. For example, Windus and Peterson researched and wrote about the current viewpoints of Israel.
Windus said she, too, is proud of her school winning four awards as they were up against inner city prep schools that have credited classes for Model UN programs.
“They have a specific class for Model UN,” she remarked. “This is just a club outside of school for us. We had to get all the information on our own time.”
Rakus agreed and noted her students have to be dedicated to participate in the program. She said the group is already preparing for their next competition.
“Right now we are preparing to attend the Model UN program at St. Bonaventure University in March,” she said.
(Contact reporter Kate Day Sager at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @OTHKate)