Models of Diplomacy

By on November 11, 2014
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Students collaborate to formulate a draft resolution at last year’s event. PHOTO: InterConnections21

Teen-focused United Nations builds confidence, future leaders

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – There are certain experiences and programs that, when you really think back on your formative years, are the shining memories that have shaped and modeled the person you have become or are striving to be.

For so many students who will attend the Teton County Model United Nations conference starting this weekend, this event will likely become that moment — a moment that is more than a required history or government assignment, more than a grade and still more than the lessons found in textbooks. For many of these students — freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors, honors students, Latino students, Idaho and Wyoming students — this event will surprise them in unexpected ways.

“It took me a long time to understand the impact [of the TCMUN], said Sarah Ross, a 2011 graduate of Jackson Hole High School. “What was so valuable is that you are taken seriously as a young person. As a young student, my ideas were taken seriously.”

Ross, now a senior at Colorado College, expects to complete her undergraduate degree in International Relations and Political Science next spring. And like so many students before her, she credits the TCMUN for inspiring her not only academically, but also socially. The program presented her with an opportunity to work with her peers on a professional stage and created a safe place for her to find an intellectual voice through the program, she said. The TCMUN also helped guide her post-secondary education and career choice.

“Everyone is invested in everyone else’s success, and the responsibility tends to improve the quality of the conference,” said Ross. “I had the chance to serve as a student leader in several capacities, culminating in being the Secretary-General, and I was really amazed by how much trust Susie and IC21 had in me, and I think it helped me live up to a higher standard.”

Susie Rauch is the force behind the multitude of volunteers and public supporters working through the Wilson-based nonprofit, InterConnections 21, which hosts the event.

Rauch is quick to shift credit for all of the program’s successes to the teachers, parents, board members, the community and, above all, to the students. She keeps tabs on them, noting by name former TCMUN participants and what they have accomplished locally, nationally and even internationally.

“It’s IC21’s signature program and implements our vision so well,” said Rauch. “Through TCMUN, students are made aware of pressing global issues and this prompts them to take action. I would add that I think this kind of experience makes students better citizens. It makes life so much richer to see other perspectives and other’s viewpoints.”

The program was founded in the late 1990s when local educators and leaders noticed a growing interest in a Model UN program. Many students had traveled nationally to participate in other Model UNs. “We found there was a huge interest here,” Rauch said.

While success could be measured in the ongoing growth enjoyed by the program year after year, Rauch said the TCMUN is only one of many steps in a student’s academic and social development. Students have traveled the nation participating in Model UN programs, they have won awards, they have started Model UN Clubs at home, they have made lifelong friends and are given the opportunity, sometimes for the first time, to step outside of themselves and to compassionately and thoughtfully consider other cultural and political perspectives.

“I’m very proud,” said Rauch of the program. “We do work with all the schools on an ongoing basis and this is not just two days or two-and-a-half days of TCMUN. From the moment the conference is over, we start taking stock and planning for the next year. We hope this step is one in an ongoing process to pursue global issues.”

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Delegates parade from committee rooms for 2013’s closing General Assembly Plenary Session.

What to expect at the TCMUN

On Sunday, from 6 to 8 p.m., the opening ceremony of the annual Teton County Model UN conference will take place at the Center for the Arts. It will be free and open to the public, providing an opportunity for the community to experience TCMUN and see its student participants in action.

The featured speaker will be Gregory Khalil, who will deliver the keynote address on “The UN’s Promise, Failure, and Potential in Israeli-Palestinian Peacemaking.”

Khalil is founder and president of Telos Group, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that states it is pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian and pro-peace.

During the event, student leaders will talk about the seven committees they will be running during the conference. Most of the student delegates will also register for the conference during the course of the evening, which will kick off two days of conference deliberations on Monday and Tuesday at Jackson Hole High School.

This year’s conference is expected to attract a full-capacity group of 230 high school students from 11 schools around Wyoming and Idaho. The conference affords student delegates an opportunity to learn about pressing global issues and to develop skills and attitudes for civic engagement, leadership and global citizenship.

The conference will run from 9:10 a.m. until 3:50 p.m. on Monday and from 9:10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday and will be broken into seven committees that simulate the activities of various UN bodies.

Participants will assume the role of diplomats from countries that the conference organizers have assigned to them. Prior to the conference, students will have researched their assigned country and prepared a country position paper focusing on the topics their committee will debate.

The seven student committees will discuss, among other topics, “Deserts and Desertification,” “Promoting and Protecting the Rights of Children,” “Controlling the Arms Trade,” “Protecting the Rights of Indigenous People” and “Global Warming as a Security Issue.”

Reily Gibson, a senior at Jackson Hole High School, will be Secretary-General and chair of the conference. Student leaders and local educators and community members will serve as co-chairs of each of the seven conference committees. At the end of the conference, prizes will be awarded for “Most Outstanding Delegate” for each committee and for “Outstanding Position Paper” for each school.

“Last year, I went to the local conference as a co-chair,” Gibson said. “It’s so cool to see all of it come together. It’s like I found this group of students who are passionate about issues beyond their hometown and I have gained a lot of confidence. It’s great to talk about issues that are so wide-reaching, and I learned a lot about leadership.”

After participating in the TCMUN her sophomore year, Gibson has since decided to study International Relations and is waiting to hear back on an early decision application to John Hopkins University. She, along with fellow classmate and senior Cora Mitchell, established the TCMUN Club at the high school.

Mitchell said the first TCMUN Club meeting was held her junior year. She expected a handful of students to attend the first meeting, but the classroom where they held it was full.

“You learn this whole new world and [TCMUN] gives you a better understanding of the world,” said Mitchell of her experience. “To be able to draw upon those experiences in my own educational career and in your everyday life and having that platform for life is important. And it’s really fun.”

Mitchell admits that TCMUN seemed overwhelming her sophomore year. But she said she quickly “fell in love” with the program.

Gibson agreed. “A lot of the time students are worried about public speaking. The parliamentary procedure might seem difficult and students are worried about being confused. You have to remember that everyone else is in the same boat, even on the diplomatic level. It’s really cool once you get there and everyone is dressed up. It’s a level of professionalism not found in everyday high school. It’s OK to be a geek for the day and get passionate about issues. And Model UN can bring that out in every student.”

Jackson students have traveled to Berkeley, New York, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia earning honors and recognitions while they compete.

“I’ve seen national conferences and even though we’re putting on this local conference, I think the Jackson Hole conference is really powerful,” Gibson said. “And it’s really cool to work to put that on and to bring out that high-level debate here. The conference here is one stepping stone to the national conference. There will be 20 students who will go on to national conference, so this is not a one-time conference.”

Rauch also is proud of the inclusivity that the program has been able to grow over the years. This year she will see students from Cody High School; Teton High School in Driggs, Idaho; Kelly Walsh High School in Casper, Wyoming; Sheridan High School; and Sun Valley Community School and Wood River High School in Blaine County, Idaho. Students from Jackson Hole Community School, Jackson Hole High School and Summit High School will also participate.

IC21 staff reached out to Rose Hendricks, a Teton High School social studies teacher in Driggs, Idaho, a few years ago.

“I really did not know what I was getting into,” Hendricks said. “But IC21 provided a lot of support for students and teachers. It’s an opportunity to put yourself in a position with different nationalities, and that is powerful and a tremendous challenge for students.”

Hendricks noted that having a program like TCMUN so close to home is a big asset and one that should be taken advantage of by parents and students alike.

“We’re so geographically isolated from other countries and this is one way to broaden students’ comprehension of global issues,” Hendricks said. “It’s stretching students academically. Our students were exposed to what high school students are capable of and by jumping in and speaking up, that was really empowering for them. You have to master a whole new language. It’s a lot to put together and I would say 95 percent of my students rose to the occasion. If you have the opportunity to participate, take full advantage of the program.”

Shown above are Teton County Model United Nations 2013 student leaders with keynote speaker Noah Novogrodsky (center).

Shown above are Teton County Model United Nations 2013 student leaders with keynote speaker Noah Novogrodsky (center).

TCMUN welcomes Greg Khalil

Each year, TCMUN opens with a guest speaker. This year, TCMUN will feature Greg Khalil, president and co-founder of The Telos Group, which aims to transform how mainstream America relates to Israel and Palestine and to all the region’s peoples through educational trips, leadership development and community engagement.

“I’ve worked with Greg for 10 years now,” said IC21board member Mary Kay Turner. ”He’s an incredibly thoughtful, well-researched and skilled negotiator on Middle East peace. Having served on the negotiating team himself, he’s really balanced and insightful.”

Turner is passionate about TCMUN as a premier educational program for local and regional students. Her husband, John, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, also addressed TCMUN recently.

Turner is excited to welcome Khalil to not only the TCMUN but to the Jackson Hole community. She said that as a young adult who has pursued his educational career with tenacity, he will leave an indelible impression on the students who attend.

“He started out early in his educational endeavors to focus on ways to make a positive impact in the world,” said Turner. “He looked at every opportunity in his education to become well-informed and thoughtful in his academic deliberations. That carries through with the work he’s doing now. He’s a young adult and that will have an appeal to students, too. It’s a message for them that they are never too young to start to make a difference in this world.”

According to Khalil’s biography, the Telos Group “strives to promote the security, dignity and freedom of all Israelis and all Palestinians by nurturing new cultural and political space that is meaningfully ‘pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-American and pro-peace.’ ”

Before founding Telos Group, Khalil lived in Ramallah on the West Bank, where he advised the Palestinian leadership on peace negotiations with Israel. Although Khalil was born and raised in San Diego, much of his extended family still lives in Beit Sahour, a predominantly Palestinian-Christian town near Bethlehem.

“He’s an intellectual and he will be very thoughtful and serious, but hopeful,” said Turner. “He’s an optimist. He will point to opportunities and advantages, as well as enemies, in the hope that peace can be achieved. There are not many in the media that are saying that, but Greg can be counted on for those observations. I think the students will see that he’s fair and students want to see that. Fairness can be lost in the political process and they can become discouraged. Hope is not elusive, but a reality.”

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