While some students are sleeping or relaxing on Saturday mornings,
students from Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria are back behind desks and
dressed formally as they raise name cards labeled “Secretary of State,”
“Sweden,” or “Germany,” at a Model UN conference. It’s no surprise that their
team is ranked in the top 150 in North America and in the top 12 in the
The team received its ranking due to its efforts last school year
from competing in conferences at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville,
George Mason University in Fairfax, the Virginia Governor School in Norfolk and
the United Nations Association of the U.S. in Washington. The school’s team, an
extension of the Model UN club, was started 17 years ago under the guidance of
Ireton’s social studies teacher, Mike Rauer. When Rauer was first asked to
moderate the club he asked, “What’s model UN?”
“You have to be very versatile because you don’t have the same country every time." Bishop Ireton junior Charlie Johnson
Today, Rauer knows the lingo and factors involved in cultivating
a club of about 50 members. He acts as a talent scout in his classes, looking
for students who are intelligent, articulate and self-motivated.
“They really want to be here,” said Rauer. “The kids get what
they put into it.”
Once he finds a conference at a local high school or university,
Rauer posts a sign-up sheet for the club with information on the topic and
nation or character. Similar to a tournament, a conference will hold several
competitions, or “committees,” that cover real-world issues such as the Zika
virus, Syrian refugee crisis or domestic subjects. Sometimes committees are based
in historical time periods, future events such as President Trump’s cabinet or
in fantasy worlds such as Harry Potter and Star Wars.
“You have to be very versatile because you don’t have the same
country every time,” said junior Charlie Johnson. “My last position was an
Irishman in the Easter uprising during World War I, and (at the next
conference) I’m Germany in the E.U.”
The constant change in nation, character and topic provides students
the opportunity to perceive an issue from different angles.
Prior to attending the conference, students research the topic of
their committee and their nation or character and write a two-page paper to be
read by the committee. Students will enter in committees as individuals or
partners, or as they call it “onesies” or “doubles.” To perform well, Rauer
detailed three ways students prepare.
“Knowledge of your topic, remaining in character for your
identity, in other words if you’re North Korea you’re not buddies with the
U.S., and understanding diplomatic procedure,” said Rauer.
The outcome of the conferences is determined by the chair of the
different committees, who acts like a referee. They permit student delegates to
speak to the committee and eventually award them based on their performance.
“It’s not actually a ranking or a point system, it depends on the
chair,” said senior Conrad Lakso. “It’s mostly based on speaking abilities, the
way you can influence the whole committee and (your) research.”
Rauer said students learn to play to the preference of the chair
by sitting in a prominent location, participating and dressing in character.
Seven years ago, one student was a representative of the Vatican and donned the
traditional black and scarlet vestments of a cardinal.
“He brought his Bible and quoted Scripture,” said Rauer.
He said the vested student was “popular,” but also initiated conversations
with other student delegates who were unfamiliar with cardinals and the Vatican.
Ireton has won Best Small Delegation at William & Mary’s
Model UN Conference 2016, and other awards at smaller local high school
For many of the students, Model UN is a way to be informed on
currents issues, and also build friendships.