Lindsey Wala was in her element, negotiating and building partnerships.
The strawberry blonde, Rim Country Middle School (RCMS) seventh-grader charmed a group of high schoolers with her animated discussion on human rights, winning her recognition at the South Orange County Model United Nations, (SOCOMUN) 20th annual conference.
“My idea (for the resolution) was to select different human rights for each country based on their cultures. Our resolution had three main ideas that trickled down to other ideas. My idea was a main idea,” said Wala.
Wala is a member of the newly formed RCMS Model United Nations (MUN) club.
Another member of the club, Bryon McCrary, took on the topic of state-sponsored terrorism. He sat at his desk, tiny Acer notebook computer at the ready, to confirm facts and stats other students presented in his committee. He also won recognition.
“I asked lots of questions and I had a lot of comments. (The committee on state-sponsored terrorism) used my idea for the resolution,” said McCrary.
His idea? McCrary suggested powerful countries, such as the United States, control the terrorism other states used against their citizens. His idea became one of the pillars of the resolution paper his group presented.
McCrary’s eighth grade social studies teacher Ted Tatum said McCrary, “is very energetic about MUN.”
“I like debating. I watch CNN with my dad. Having nine brothers and sisters, and living with seven of them, we debate around the dinner table. I like to debate with my brother Blake,” said McCrary. His brother came on the trip as well.
Both Wala and McCrary won awards at the SOCOMUN 20th annual conference at the Santa Margarita Catholic High School (SMCHS) in Southern California. The conference drew 1,100 students from 25 different high and middle schools.
Wala won a commendation award for being a delegate who stands out by understanding the topic and sponsoring a final collaborative resolution of her diplomatic group.
McCrary won an outstanding award for being a leader during the group discussions, suggesting multiple solutions that illustrated his extensive research and understanding of his topic, while exhibiting good diplomacy and participating as a main sponsor of the resolution.
Kristi Kisler, a seventh grade language arts and social studies teacher at RCMS, started the Model UN club this year because she enjoys how the program teaches through hands-on research using language arts, history, math and science.
Instead of spoon-feeding the information, the students research and develop their own ideas on how to solve problems the world faces today. She simply acts as a facilitator, helping them to get past road blocks in their research.
“It’s a worthy opportunity for our kids,” said Kisler.
She heard about MUN from Wala’s mother.
“Laurel was researching educational options and found out about MUN and came to Marlene (Kisler’s co-worker) saying, ‘There’s this thing called Model United Nations, we should do it’, so we did,” said Kisler.
The three discovered the program works through conferences. Arizona had finished its conferences for the year, but Southern California had one last conference last spring. The teachers prepared for the three weeks they had available and took six students to Anaheim to participate and discover how the organization works.
“The conference we went to was at the end of the competition year. We didn’t understand the jargon or procedures, but we learned a lot,” said Kisler.
For the first conference of this year, Kisler decided to attend the SOCOMUN since organizers call it a “learning conference.” Participants need little or no preparation for the conference for the purpose is to introduce students to MUN.
“This conference took what we learned from the other conference and put it all together,” said Kisler.
MUN simulates how the actual United Nations works. Students around the world participate in conferences role playing as diplomats representing a nation or NGO (non-governmental organizations such as the security council), simulating the actual UN through committees that educate the students about current events, international relations and diplomacy.
Participants develop research skills, public speaking experience, interpersonal finesse and learn the art of compromise, while getting the chance to travel the world, make connections with students in other cities and aids college admissions.
Students run the organization. No central group organizes conferences, although the World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) works with MUNs around the world.
A new group, called bestdelegate.com, started by past MUN participants, offers seminars and coaching to schools starting up MUN clubs.
Model and civic educational imitations of the UN started in the 1920s with the pre World War II League of Nations. When the UN started in 1945, simulations of the League of Nations ended and MUN was born.
Some of the oldest continuous high school MUN conferences are the Indianapolis MUN and the Berkeley MUN, both founded in 1952. The National MUN, held in the United Nations building in New York City has more than 5,000 participants.
Conferences follow a similar pattern with an opening ceremony followed by students breaking out into committees. Each committee discusses a single topic, such as chemical and biological weapons, capital punishment, land minds, drug trafficking, deforestation, and Jammu and Kashmir, or Israel and Palestine.
In the committee on child labor, two co-chairs, one from the hosting school and another from a supporting school, ran the discussion; a secretary kept notes and time.
Two students from RCMS took part — McKayla McGuire as a delegate from Saudi Arabia and Kelton Bachtell worked as a page.
Usually, a delegate makes a position speech and participates in the discussion, but this being her first conference, McGuire sat quietly absorbing the whole scene.
Co-Chair Margo Wilhelms from the hosting school, Santa Margarita Catholic High School, stopped often to explain the reasons behind making motions or even how to answer roll call.
“When I call the name of your country, if you respond with just a ‘present,’ you don’t have to vote on a resolution. But if you respond with ‘present and voting,’ you must vote,” said Wilhelms.
Turning to Bachtell, Wilhelms said, “This is the page. He takes any notes you have during speeches to any other delegates or the chair.”
Throughout the committee process, Bachtell quickly and quietly moved amongst the students collecting notes and delivering them. Most notes represent behind the scenes negotiations or invitations to work together so that when caucuses (breakout sessions designed to build groups who will write a position paper on a resolution) are called, groups don’t waste time introducing themselves.
Opening speeches from countries lay out that country’s position. After opening speeches, groups meet to discuss what sort of suggestions they have to solve the issue discussed in committee.
The next round of speeches includes options to resolve the problem. Countries that sympathize with the speaker’s point of view join together to write a resolution paper.
After students have written up their group’s resolution, they present their findings and ask for the committee to vote to support their document.
A modified version of Robert’s Rules of Order keeps the meeting orderly.
With a half-hour break for lunch, the committee process took four and a half hours.
Some resolutions didn’t make the floor, some died and others passed.
Both resolutions for Wala and McCrary did not make it through the voting process, but they enjoyed the conference regardless.
“It’s fun meeting new people. I enjoy seeing how other kids represent their country, to see their ideas. And I made some new friends. See? Here’s the phone number for Angola,” said Wala showing the entry in her phone for “Angola” — that’s how the kids know each other, by the name of the country they represent.