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Local students get life experience with Model UN

CARLSBAD — Local high school students are poised to give some of the world’s most prominent problem solvers a run for their money.
Students from Pacific Ridge School have been making a name for themselves at Model UN conferences around the country. From Palo Alto to Seattle, they have brought tough competition to the table and shown what they know about international affairs.
With just a year and a half of experience, the small group of students has been tackling important issues and bringing home coveted awards, including “Best Small School Delegation,” at Stanford University’s recent Model UN Conference.
“It sounds cliché to say they are the next generation of leaders, but thank goodness they are!” said faculty advisor and English teacher Liz Grossman. “It gives you hope.”
The school’s club meets once a week for 90 minutes and discusses the impact of real life issues. While most schools offer participation in the Model UN as an actual class, Pacific Ridge’s students participate in the weekly group and do additional research and writing on their own.
“It’s learning about a real situation at a level of depth that you can’t get in class,” said faculty advisor and history teacher Scott Silk.
When preparing for a conference, students are given a topic ranging from a broad issue to a specific individual that they must research and prepare material on. With as little as two weeks to prepare, students immerse themselves in information and are coached by the faculty to create impressive arguments that mirror real problems tackled by the UN.
“You need to do your research,” junior Grant Nassif said. Even though the students are participating in hypothetical situations, their research is still crucial to the team’s success. “You could be preventing death or causing it,” he said.
Attending the conferences has become an eye-opening experience for all the students that participate. While away for the night or the weekend, students dine on ethnic fare, take public transportation and mingle with other delegations. Host schools usually hold a dance social for students to unwind after they’ve spent the day in deep discussion.
“We think of Model UN as the ultimate experiential learning project,” Grossman said. “It builds skills while they’re having fun.”
The skills that are honed while participating in the group have also helped students in their day-to-day schoolwork. Sophomore Elle Lichter said that the group has helped her focus on school and has encouraged conversations about international issues with her parents.
“Our dinner table is now a Harkness table,” said Lichter, referring to the style of teaching used at Pacific Ridge. Named after Edward Harkness, the oval-shaped tables provide a low student to teacher ratio for interactive discussion in class.
The determination of the students and the support from the faculty has helped make the Model UN program a success at Pacific Ridge School. While Silk had tried to kick start the program at another school, it didn’t receive the same welcome as it has with his recent group of students.
“I have a huge passion for international affairs and I want to pass it on,” Silk said.