Roaring Fork High School UN club all about real-world learning
The world is faced with lots of complex problems, and, while it’s hard to resolve them, it’s not impossible. And the millennial generation might just be the best equipped to get the job done.
At least that’s the thinking of Tavia Teitler, a senior at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale who is headed to New York City for a third straight year March 10-13 as part of the school’s Model United Nations club.
“I’ve always been interested in diplomacy, and I believe in the work the UN does,” said Teitler, who will be joined by 23 of her schoolmates at the annual National High School Model UN conference.
“It’s really fun to be in a room for four days with other high school students who are as passionate and excited as I am about foreign relations, and to talk about these issues in depth,” she said.
Junior Chelsey Serrano was inspired to join Model UN by her older brother, who was involved shortly after the club was started by RFHS government teacher Matt Wells four years ago.
This will be Serrano’s second year going to the conference, which takes place in part at the UN Headquarters in Manhattan.
Serrano has been learning about FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and UN’s efforts to maintain peace deals.
“I had read about it before, but I’ve never gone into this much detail,” she said. “It’s interesting learning about the history of this group and why people like and dislike them.”
Model UN, which requires students to prepare position papers on different topics and to present them in front of their peers, has also built Serrano’s confidence.
“My public speaking has gotten immensely better,” she said. “Last year it was hard to build up the courage to go in front of all these students who are so intelligent and well-spoken, and know so much about the topic. But I finally accepted that I was part of them, too.”
Wells was involved with Model UN when he was in high school. He started his first club while teaching at an international school in Honduras, and did the same at Aspen High School before he began teaching at RFHS five years ago.
“Model UN is one of those things that generates its own interest, and after that first year the buzz and interest had all kinds of kids wanting to join,” he said.
This year, more than 30 students from ninth through 12th grades are involved in the club, and 24 will be traveling to New York for the NHSMUN conference.
“It’s different from debate or mock trial, in that you’re not trying to win, you’re trying to solve issues collaboratively with representatives from countries that have different viewpoints,” Wells said.
The mission of Model UN is “to foster global citizens who seek to solve complex global issues through collaboration and diplomacy … and develop a deeper understanding of international issues and the UN while strengthening public speaking and critical thinking skills.”
This year, 19 RFHS student will represent the country of Botswana on 11 different committees. Two students are also representing Kuwait on the League of Arab States, two will represent Egypt on the Security Council, and one, Teitler, was appointed to sit on the International Court of Justice.
“First and foremost, the kids are learning about current international events and affairs at an incredibly deep level,” Wells said. “They’re also learning about the art of diplomacy and how to negotiate with countries and other groups that have different interests.”
Then there’s the benefit of honing their public speaking skills, as well as the research skills involved with preparing the position papers.
The conference itself invites thousands of students not only from the United States, but from around the world.
The RFHS club has its own international flavor this year, as three foreign exchange students, Luise Fuerst and Sophie Hofmann from Germany and Camila Wikum from Norway, will be part of the Carbondale delegation.
“For those kids to be involved, and doing it in what’s not their first language, adds a different perspective,” Wells said.
For all of the Carbondale students it’s a chance to step out into the bigger world, he said.
“To a certain extent we live in a little bubble here in this valley, so to get outside of that and see the level of engagement and work the other kids put into it is also a great experience,” Wells said.
The cost to attend the conference is about $1,100 per student, so the club relies on donations from the community to help support the effort.
A GoFundMe page [https://www.gofundme.com/RFHS-UN] has been set up to try to raise $5,000 for this year’s trip. The club also receives support from the RFHS Booster Club, and will be organizing a fun run in April to help raise money for future years.
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