Park City High School Model UN inspires students to make a worldly difference
Students restart team after it was dismantled during the coronavirus pandemic, travel to New York for national conference
More than 2,000 miles away from home in Midtown Manhattan, six Park City High School students walked through the aisles of the General Assembly of the United Nations and sat in the room where activists and pop culture icons gave passionate speeches about important issues helping to capture the world’s attention and influence change.
It was inspiring for juniors Lila Stein, Audrey Lord, Isabelle Andrews and Elspeth Stevenson, as well as sophomores Melanie McKean and Addie Leombruno, who traveled to New York City for the National High School Model United Nations conference in mid-March. Around 2,500 students from 70 countries attended the event, which was the second-ever competition for the newly formed high school Model UN team.
Andrews has been the driving force behind rebuilding the team after it was essentially dissolved during the coronavirus pandemic, according to advisor and high school teacher Paula McKay. The junior grew up in an international household, can speak five languages and has a deep passion for international relations. Andrews helped recruit the other members to restart the team this school year, and the group quickly dove into preparing for its first regional competition at Brigham Young University in October.
The Park City High School Model UN team represented Japan and Brazil during the fall conference, which required them to research the countries’ political and cultural history as well as their stance on current issues such as LGBTQ+ rights, women’s equality, education and more. Each team has two delegates that are part of a mock committee, which has specific topics and is modeled after one of the six main committees of the General Assembly. For example, the Security Council addresses concerns about international security and nuclear warfare while UNICEF strives toward improving the quality of life for children across the world as a humanitarian agency.
Delegates are asked to come in professionally dressed and prepared with a position paper, which includes background information about the country they’re representing. The teams have a specific goal in mind for their country that must be considered throughout the entire competition, regardless of whether the delegates actually support it. The students then make speeches that address their viewpoints and solutions during a timed, moderated caucus. This helps the other countries understand what each group is working toward and helps set up future alliances.
The committees then have an unmoderated discussion to address the issue and help form solutions with the ultimate goal of developing a resolution paper, again modeled after the United Nations. Andrews also participated in an event that required her to compete entirely in Spanish.
“It was our first competition and none of us had any experience so we went in not really expecting anything, but we managed to win every award,” she said.
It was intimidating at first with no senior to help guide the group, Andrews added, but she reached out to other students involved in Model UN and made connections that proved to be critical. Andrews also learned about opportunities to travel to competitions in Chicago or Boston, and decided to register the team for the international event in New York City earlier this month.
The group was assigned to Afghanistan with the students serving as delegates for UNICEF, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Topics included housing insecurity for children, literacy education for children, promoting small enterprises in Asia and the Pacific, the economics of human trafficking, migrant abuse at international borders and protecting unaccompanied child migrants.
Most of the work goes into preparing for the competition as the group reviews the policies of their country and what countries are willing to work with them. Stein said it’s important for delegates to look into why certain alliances exist and to understand why other countries might be unwilling to work with a specific nation so they can find commonalities and argue for support. Representing a country such as Afghanistan also required the Park City team to really “get to know their character,” which holds vastly different views from what they’re familiar with. Teams are judged in part for how well they stay in their country’s role.
The Model UN team was nervous because they didn’t have as much experience as the other groups since they had only competed in Utah once before, but they found the atmosphere in New York City to be collaborative and supportive with students regularly encouraging each other throughout the three-day conference.
From hearing the different languages being spoken, passing notes to form alliances, witnessing a delegate from Latvia build a small empire, knowing their peers by country rather than name, and listening to high-ranking UN officials deliver keynote addresses, the competition was a bonding experience for the team. The students joked that most of their free time was spent waiting in line for the elevator, studying for exams or searching for the city’s most iconic dishes when they weren’t preparing for the competition.
And while the Park City teens walked away with a greater knowledge of foreign policy, they also developed important skills such as diplomacy and compromise, active listening, the value of research, public speaking and how to problem-solve, according to McKay.
“I think Model UN helps them to see that some of the world’s problems are not insurmountable and they can play a role, now and as adults, in solving them. I think it gives them some hope in a seemingly bleak world,” McKay said. “I realized that the UN is the only international body of this size and stature dedicated to solving some of the world’s most pressing problems. While the UN is, as the U.S. Ambassador said, ‘an imperfect organization, in an imperfect world,’ I wonder where our world would be without it.”
The resolutions passed by each Model UN committee are based on real topics and may be considered by the world’s leaders as solutions to the problems. The team said it was inspiring to watch young people holding those in power accountable by asking tough questions about the issues their generation cares about. The high schoolers met diverse people from across the world, who are growing up in environments unlike what they’ve experienced in Park City, which has led the Model UN participants to want to learn more about different cultures.
They also highlighted how they’ve become more confident as leaders because of the experience. Model UN similarly taught the team the importance of capitalizing on their strengths, but also of not being afraid to challenge themselves.
The Park City Model UN team is hoping to boost recruitment and funding opportunities in the future to participate in more regional and out-of-state conferences. Their next competition is the state tournament slated for April 18, where the students will represent the African countries of Gabon and Mali.
“I think we all felt like we were making a difference. Everyone always thinks, ‘What can I do to change the world?’ but this is it. This is how you go and learn about it. You’re there and you feel like you’re changing things,” Lord said.
Stein added, “One step at a time!”
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