Bishop Ireton's Model UN team ranks in top 150 in North America

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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 Mid-Atlantic.

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.”

CONNOR BERGERON  |  Catholic Herald

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.”

CONNOR BERGERON  |  Catholic Herald

 

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.”

 CONNOR BERGERON  |  Catholic Herald

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 conferences.

For many of the students, Model UN is a way to be informed on currents issues, and also build friendships. 

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

@cbergeronACH