A group of Colorado Springs School high school students can call the world their classroom.
Nine members of the private school’s Model United Nations club traveled to Iceland in February for an international competition.
“We were really lucky to have this opportunity,” said 18-year-old Jordan Murphy, a senior and treasurer of the club. “It’s tough to pick out a highlight.”
Iceland was just one stop. CSS students compete in many Model U.N. events during the school year. Team members will compete closer to home next month.
About 30 students are in the Model U.N. club each year. They meet during lunch and spend time outside of class working on research and competition preparation.
The top performers at competitions closer to home had to apply to be a member of the team that went to Iceland.
At competitions, students wear business attire and comply with strict protocol. Delegates are expected to serve as representatives from their assigned countries — even if they disagree personally with that nation’s policies.
“I had to take myself out of it and pretend to be someone else,” Nick Gardiner, 18, said of one competition. The senior leads the club as secretary-general.
“It has taught me so much about other countries,” he said. “The issues are real.”
CSS teacher David Benson said the team was the first group of American students to participate in the Iceland competition. The high school students competed against college students pursuing careers in laws and politics, and CSS students nabbed two of the top three awards, he said.
Although it was a competition, it was a chance for the students from around the world to learn more about Model U.N., since the CSS students have extensive experience. Despite spending a lot of time at competition, held at Reykjavik University, they also had time for sightseeing and other trips.
Visiting Iceland President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson was the highlight for many of the students, they said. Benson said the time with the leader was a highlight of his career.
Students said they were surprised, and impressed, by the time he spent talking to them about leadership and working to make the world a better place.
They weren’t easy lessons, Benson said: One concept the president stressed to the students was how they should stand their ground for what is right even when it isn’t popular.
The Model U.N. club was started in 2006, when Benson tapped students already involved in a politics club. Benson teaches Advanced Placement and regular U.S history and AP comparative politics.
His motivation in starting and continuing Model U.N. is seeing what the students gain from the experience.
“It combines debate, politics and theater,” he said. “We can really look into real-world problems and come up with solutions.”
Although Iceland was the major trip of this school year, some students will compete April 13 at a smaller, regional event in Denver. A team also went to a Fort Collins competition in March.
Andrea Southard, 14, was one of only two freshmen selected for the Iceland competition. She is part of a four-person delegation for the April event.
Andrea said she will sped up to several hours a day on research as the competition approaches. She said she intends to stay active in Model U.N. — even though it means extra school work.
“It’s a fun challenge,” Andrea said. “It’s not painful.”
At competitions, students and advisers help each other out, even if they may attend different schools, Andrea said.
“Everyone is so supportive,” she said. “It’s a tight-knit community.”
Benson taught overseas before arriving at CSS. Iceland was a first for the CSS Model U.N. team, but CSS students usually are invited attend a competition in Germany or Ireland every other year. In alternate years, they compete at larger, regional competitions.
The world championships of Model U.N. are held in Paris each year, and Benson said CSS is on the waiting list.