Students build bridges of understanding of world problems

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO  - The 2011-2012 West Linn High School Model United Nations Club won two awards at the conference last year. Hunter Bosson is shown on the top left and Kim Tran is in the jacket on the bottom right.In September, President Barack Obama addressed the United Nations at the general assembly in New York. In his address he affirmed what he said “are not simply American values or Western values — they are universal values.”

Throughout October, Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and presidential candidate Mitt Romney and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan debated about foreign affairs, unrest in the Middle East, the attack on the American embassy in Libya and the slaying of Ambassador Chris Stevens.

The candidates spoke of anti-American sentiments, the importance of international diplomacy and, most importantly, they spoke of democracy and peace.

Students at West Linn High School are learning about foreign affairs and international diplomacy first-hand through the Model United Nations club. The club was formed six years ago. World history, civics and advanced placement government teacher Todd Jones advises the group.

The purpose of the organization is to promote the concept of citizen participation in international affairs, to assist students in increasing a global consciousness, to seek solutions to global issues, to provide a setting for debate of issues backed by research and facts, and to build bridges of understanding among different cultures.

This is junior Shruthi Thandri’s third year in the club.

“I really like learning about the countries and the relationships between the United States and other countries,” Thandri said. “To be honest, I didn’t know anything coming into the club. But during the conference it’s interesting to learn what problems every country is facing and how they are going to resolve those problems.”

She said her experience in the club has taught her to be a better communicator and learn that there is a world outside the United States.

“It’s really nice and safe here but other countries don’t have the luxurious life that we all live,” she said.

The club is part of the Oregon Model United Nations Program, which hosts an annual conference for grades eight to 12. Approximately 1,200 attend the conference each year. Members of the West Linn club will attend the conference April 11-13 at the University of Oregon.

“We will spend much of the first three to four months learning about the countries we represent in conference and then learning about global issues,” Jones said. “The next three months are prep for conference — researching issues and writing position papers.”

This is also junior Kim Tran’s third year in the club. She said foreign policy and global issues were entirely foreign to her before joining the club.

“To be honest I had almost zero knowledge,” Tran said. “I only knew about the small headlines in the news or the war on terror.”

The experience, she said, has given her a broadened perspective and improved her communication skills.

“I’m learning to work with others and persuading others to believe what we think,” she said. “We are always debating with each other.”

The club of about 34 students meets every Wednesday in Jones’ classroom. This year, the club will represent Syria and Tanzania at the conference. The conference is set up in a congressional format wherein a problem is presented to each country the clubs represent. The problem then goes to a committee level where it’s debated and resolutions are passed. Then the resolutions are presented in front of the general assembly.

“Much of the training is how to be affective in the committee — things like speaking skills, negotiation skills, collaboration skills, problem solving skills,” Jones said. “Part of what I’m trying to do is not just give them experience in global issues but to give them skills that will serve them well in every sense of life.”

At the conference, outstanding students are given public speaking and consensus builder awards. Jones said approximately 36 awards are given to the 1,200 students at the conference. West Linn students typically bring home two to six of those awards.

“It speaks well of West Linn,” Jones said. “They are good kids.”

This is junior Hunter Bosson’s second year in the club. Bosson said he joined the club because it would teach him about the political process and that sounded interesting.

“I just like foreign policy and I like arguing so it sounded like a great fit,” Bosson said. “I’m extremely competitive and I like the oratory aspect of it. You get to assume the identity of other countries and that’s a cool experience.”