PLATTSBURGH — Of all the extracurricular activities that Minh Coryer participates in at Beekmantown High School, Harvard Model United Nations has affected him the most.
“It’s ridiculously enlightening,” the 12th-grader said.
He has been among thousands of high-school students from around the globe who gather at Harvard University in Boston to participate in the annual four-day mock conference on international relations.
For decades, area districts, including Northeastern Clinton, Beekmantown, Peru, Saranac, Saranac Lake, Chazy and Elizabethtown-Lewis central schools, have sent groups of students to the conference, where they take on the roles of delegates representing various countries and debate global issues.
“I think it’s a source of pride for North Country schools,” Beekmantown Central Harvard Model U.N. Adviser Scott Tuller said of participating in the program.
At this year’s conference, held last month, Coryer received an honorable mention for his participation on the Economic and Financial Committee of 2015 — he represented Montenegro in a debate on a hypothetical oil crisis set two years in the future.
For several months before the conference, he and other participants researched the policies of their assigned countries, as well as events and circumstances affecting those policies.
It gives “kids the opportunity to step out of their shoes of being an American and understand another country and world issues,” said Pete Castine, adviser to ELCS’s Harvard Model U.N. group.
Harvard Model U.N., noted NCCS program adviser Jason Borrie, helps students develop writing, research and public-speaking skills, as well as potential solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues.
“For me, what I can get from Model U.N. is a better perspective on how our generation can come together and solve the crisis that not only the U.N. has to face but other nations have to face on their own,” said Peru Central junior Thomas Gwinn.
“There’s so many crises out there in the world that need to be fixed,” added fellow junior Shayne Donoghue, secretary for Peru Central’s Harvard Model U.N. Club.
Donoghue, too, received an honorable mention at this year’s conference for his work representing Somalia in the event’s Ad Hoc Summit of the League of Arab States.
Through their negotiations with fellow delegates at Harvard University, students are also challenged with learning the arts of diplomacy, compromise and leadership.
“This program sort of fosters massive amounts of independence, as well as abilities to work well with others and lead others,” Coryer said.
“It taught me leadership like no other program,” added first-time participant Kenna Barnes, a sophomore at CCRS.
Barnes and CCRS junior Paige Garnot represented Japan on the conference’s Disarmament and International Security Committee, where they worked with delegates representing countries like Yemen and the United States to formulate solutions aimed to protect citizens in modern warfare.
Though Barnes personally liked the solutions offered by the Russian delegates, she ultimately chose to align with the United States, as that is what Japan often does.
And she felt it her duty to represent the country accurately.
“Most countries (perspectives) that I have to represent aren’t the same views as I (have), so it’s difficult at some points,” noted Leagon Carlin, a junior at Peru Central.
“But then you also have to remember that it’s crucial to everyone else there that you represent your points properly.”
A WORLD VIEW
But while the Harvard program requires students to stay focused on their assigned roles and duties, there is time for some socialization.
“You meet so many people from different countries,” said Nicole Fisher, also a junior at Peru Central.
She has kept in touch with students from Singapore and continues to learn about the lives of contacts she’s made in other nations as well.
“I think that schools need to have programs that give their students more of a world view instead of a centralized view of where we live ... and I think schools need to have places in their budget for things like this,” Carlin said.
This school year, for the first time, Peru’s Model U.N. experience was not funded by the district budget, a program cut to help control spending.
The students held fundraisers to cover the cost of transportation, lodging and fees for the conference, including a bottle drive and volleyball tournament. The Student Council and local businesses gave donations, as well.
“Aside from the fact that they had to do all their prep for Harvard this year, they had to fund raise about $5,500, which they did,” adviser Peter McCormick said.
Other area Harvard Model U.N. groups rely on fundraisers and donations to remain active, too; some others are funded by their school districts.
And in some cases, such as at NCCS, the program is supported by a combination of both district funds and student efforts.
Several of the area’s participating schools also pool together to share the costs of transporting their students to Boston each year.
“Harvard Model United Nations introduces our North Country children to the world,” CCRS Harvard Model U.N. adviser Steve Cross said in an email.
“I want to thank all of the sponsors, school boards, parents and community members for helping to provide that opportunity. I sincerely hope to continue the North Country’s longstanding tradition of competing against some of the world’s best students.”
Email Ashleigh Livingston: firstname.lastname@example.org