For most students, school has only been in session a few weeks. But the students enrolled in Sandpoint High School’s Model United Nation’s class have been hard at work since the beginning of summer.
“The students have been busy with fundraising activities and are preparing for the third annual International Evening event,” said teacher Debbie Smith. The fundraising event is a celebration of world culture with students dressed in international costumes, serving appetizers associated with various parts of the world and auctioning items to help raise money for their trip to New York City in the spring to attend the Model United Nations Conference.
The Model United Nations program is known worldwide as an innovative way for students to learn the procedures and practices of the U.N. delegates, and focuses on several issues that affect nations worldwide including trade, terrorism, poverty and control of nuclear weapons.
While the Sandpoint High School class is categorized as a social studies course, it incorporates several areas of study including history, geography, government and economics.
“Students develop research, writing, listening, speaking and consensus building skills,” said Smith, who adds that they also learn about the art of diplomacy which requires critical thinking and open mindedness.
Smith says the cost for each student to travel to New York is approximately $2,000. Three years ago when the program first started, Panhandle Alliance for Education, a local nonprofit group which raises money to support students, teachers, staff and parents of the Lake Pend Oreille School District, provided a grant of $38,000 with increments decreasing over a period of three years. This year marks the final year and the lowest increment of the money.
To help supplement the decline in funding, Smith says the group was fortunate to receive a generous grant from the Equinox Foundation – a student-run, nonprofit organization – that will help defray each student’s expenses by approximately $300.
“The Equinox Foundation’s goals of building opportunities for youth combined with creating a healthy environment are so admirable and inspirational,” said Smith in expressing her gratitude for the grant. She said the program, “really combines both of those goals in that it develops student leadership through educational and cultural activities and fosters an understanding of the interconnectedness of people and the environment.”
The yearlong process of preparing for the conference begins with the students being assigned a country to study. According to Smith, some of the issues they research include easing the effects of population on climate change; offshore drilling in the Arctic Circle; access to water and the global food price crisis.
“Some of the so-called ‘in the news’ issues include promoting security in international waters in the face of Somali pirates; Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights; combating Mexican drug cartels; opium production in Afghanistan; finding alternative livelihoods for drug farmers; women and girls in Afghanistan; and social and cultural rebuilding in Haiti,” said Smith.
Each student will concentrate on two topics for their assigned country and will spend the year focusing on those areas so they can present and debate on the floor of the United Nations in the spring.
“Developing these types of skills in our local young people and schools has a significant and positive impact on our community,” said Smith.
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