CHAZY - It's been a long time coming, but students from Chazy Central Rural School are once again representing their school through the North Country Model United Nations program.
Eight students of the program, under the direction of social studies teacher Steve Cross, recently returned from Harvard University in Boston, Mass., where they participated in a four-day international Model U.N. conference. While other area schools such as Northeastern Clinton Central, Peru Central and Beekmantown Central schools were in attendance, Chazy Central hadn't participated in the annual conference since the early 1990s, said Cross.
"I felt it was very important to bring back," said Cross. "It's really valuable for Chazy students who really don't experience much cultural diversity on a regular basis."
Cross began examining reestablishing the program five years ago following conversations with Beekmantown Central School social studies teacher Scott Tuller, who also oversees a Model U.N. program. Not long after, Cross established the club at Chazy and has been working to prepare students for competition ever since.
The students' performance at the competition in Boston was one of which Cross said he is extremely proud. There, students represented the Republic of Palau in southeast Asia, discussing the nation's stance on issues such as small arms trades, disease, polygamy and overpopulation.
In preparation for their debate, the students were able to speak with representatives of the Palau government via a conference call with the actual United Nations in New York City.
"They had their main delegates talking to Chazy students about Palau's point of view on all the major issues," said Cross.
Emily LaPierre, a Chazy sophomore in the Model U.N. program, said she was very appreciative of the opportunity to speak directly with people of the nation they were representing.
"We talked to them for about an hour just about our topics and what their views are, so that was pretty cool," she said.
The first-hand information helped reinforce the studying the students had been doing around the clock, said Cross.
"They really took it all in," said Cross. "It was unbelievable to see these young people really believe in solving global issues. They put 110 percent into this, working day and night, even going to Plattsburgh State's library on Sundays. They worked all year and it shows."
Sophie Foreman, also a sophomore in the program, said the trip was "a really great experience," preparing her for future public speaking and introducing her to worlds beyond the borders of the North Country.
"We met a lot of people from different countries and other parts of the U.S. and we learned about their culture," said Sophie Foreman, also a sophomore in the program. "And, we had to speak in front of a large amount of people and I think that really helped our public speaking skills. We had to work with all these other people we didn't know to create a real solution."
"We were in debate more hours than we were able to sleep," laughed Corine Giroux, a senior who participated in the conference. "But, it was really cool because we were able to meet kids from all over the world. There were kids from China, kids from Turkey. Just to be able to debate with them was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed the trip."
While they didn't win any awards, the students did take home a valuable experience that made them a little more worldly, said Cross. Having served for several years as a Navy Seabee that has traveled across the globe, Cross said he believes the Model U.N. program is something the students will remember and will draw from for years to come.
"[This program] is important for the kids as they head to college so when they get there they already know how to debate, write and speak in front of a large population," he said. "It was the apex of my academic career to bring those kids there because they actually believe in trying to solve the world's problems."
Though the experience was a memorable one, the ability for Chazy Central to continue to participate in such conferences comes down to finances, said Cross. The program is funded through events hosted by the club such as T-shirt sales and dinners.
"It's very cost-prohibitive to go, and without fundraising, it'd be impossible," said Cross. "We even rode to the conference with Elizabethtown Central to reduce costs." As a means to raise the necessary funding for next year's Harvard University trip, the club will host a spaghetti dinner Friday, Jan. 2, in the cafeteria of the school on Miner Farm Road. The event, which will be held from 4-7:30 p.m., consists of the dinner, presentations by the students and a slideshow of the recent trip to Boston.
The cost of the meal will be $5 per person. That small amount can mean the difference between attending future competitions and not, Cross said.
"It would enable a North Country student to experience a trip that's they'll remember for a lifetime and one that will give them an edge on future college applications," he said. "The benefits of this program are endless."