By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — They call it a sprint, “a great deal of energy exerted over a short period of time.”
And for the 10th year in a row, that energy has paid off for the Kenmore East High School Model United Nations team.
The team won the honors of best overall delegation for a 10th successive year — and its 11th in the past 12 years — during the Model U.N. competition Tuesday at Knox Hall on the University at Buffalo’s North Campus.
The annual event is sponsored by the International Institute of Buffalo with UB and the international affairs departments of other local colleges and universities. Hundreds of students from 30 schools took part, representing 53 countries to debate issues ranging from “regulating Internet censorship laws” and “gay rights in Uganda” to “intervention in the Syrian conflict” and “North Korea and nuclear weapons.” Ken East represented France this year, although past teams have won as Spain, Portugal and other countries.
History teacher Christopher Knab, co-advisor of the team with teacher Trevor Brown, said the teams receive the resolutions to be debated in February. From there, they must study the issues, research past U.N. actions on them and come up with amendments to improve the resolutions. In addition, they have to do so from the perspective of their assigned country, and know the protocol for parliamentary procedure at the U.N.
”For that month ... it’s what they do,” Knab said of the students. “They’re nervous, especially these days. ... When they come into the team, they think they have to win. I regret that part. I want them to just love doing it.”
Students from this year’s winning team admitted that there’s pressure to keep the streak going — not from the school’s administration or the team’s advisers, but from themselves.
”They always tell us it’s like a sprint, and I think it’s very true,” senior Andrea Decker said, but “We realized regardless of what the results were ... we knew what we were doing. I would not have changed anything about how I prepared for it.”
Senior Nate Weller jokingly cited “the intimidation effect” prior team members can have on newcomers.
”My first year doing it, we made sure to do a lot of research ... because they scared us,” he said. “We don’t want to be the team that breaks the streak.”
All of the group, however, acknowledge that they’ve learned a lot during the process, from current events to dealing with others.
”I’ve learned a whole lot of things ... everything,” said senior Laura Werwinski. “Time management, how to speak in front of people, how to work with people, how to take rejection well.”
Morgann O’Brochta, a senior, said the research also opens students’ eyes to culture differences and issues in the world.
”It’s really hard to find resolutions to problems, and there are no easy answers,” she said. “There always has to be give and take.”
However, she said, there’s nothing like going into the competition and realizing how much you’ve learned.
”You don’t really know how much you really know. And then you realize ... you do.”
Knab said the event is all about challenging the students, who have met that challenge with 10 years of success.
”I think it’s because the kids who do it care to do it well,” he said. “It’s not easy. I don’t remember being as focused and mature and capable as my Model UNers are. Sometimes the level of conversation I’m having with these kids ... hydroelectric dams in Afghanistan and turbines and is this a way to get Afghanistan on the road to a future that isn’t like its past ... They come back with things that I never knew in my life.
”We’re dealing with issues like Syrian refuges. ... With each passing year, kids come back and tell me things that are impressive.”
In addition to the knowledge of current events and issues, Knab said, the students also gain public speaking experience. He’s seen students shaking from nervousness who nevertheless continue on with their presentations.
”There are moments in which these kids are standing in front of hundreds and hundreds of people, representing someone they’re not ... but they do it and they do it well,” he said. “By the third or fourth times they’re up there, they feel much more comfortable. I think that might have an impact.”
It’s a lesson that’s not quickly lost.
Ken East graduates Jamie and Ian Boswell and Grace O’Connell, members of the school’s winning Model U.N. team in 2011, dropped by for a visit to the school Friday. All three said that their experience with the team still helps them to this day.
”I can sit down and watch the news and know what they’re talking about,” said Ian Boswell, now a student at Long Island University Post. “It really teaches you how to know what’s important. A lot of things get muddled up in the news.”
”It kind of gave me a different type of confidence,” she said. “I learned how to think on my feet quickly, doing this ... which is a very good thing. It’s just a different way of thinking, I guess.”
In addition, she said, the experience has helped her relate to students of different backgrounds at the University of Rochester, where she’s studying psychology. “It’s nice to be able to know where they’re coming from.”
Knab said that other former Model UN students have gone on to work in presidential administrations, international politics and Washington think tanks, as well as many other fields.
”My favorite part isn’t the victory, it’s the process and what it does to them,” he said. “All you want to do as a teacher is have some positive effect. You want to leave them on what you hope is a healthy and smart path.
”And in the corniest way, it’s just a fun high school memory. They don’t forget it, I’ll tell you that.”
Of the 2013 team’s members, Kyle Patterson and Nathan Weller took first place in the Special Political Committee. Matt Don and Louis Capizzi took first place in the Economic and Finance Committee. James Benders and Elaina Hill took first place in the Ad Hoc Special Political Committee. The team also included Rich Brinkman, Ryan Flynn, Laura Werwinski, Andrea Decker, Morgann O’Brochta, Julie Yendall, Derek Baker and Wei Wang.