By Mike LaBella
---- — Haverhill High School’s Model United Nations team is soaring.
In December, the team participated in Boston College’s inaugural Model U.N. conference for high schools. Competing against a slew of strong teams — including Catholic Memorial, Duxbury Academy, St. John’s Prep, St. John’s High School, Westwood Academy, Boston College High School and other schools — Haverhill shocked the conference by taking first place (Outstanding Delegation) for delegations of 20 students or fewer. Most of the teams competed in that category.
More recently, Haverhill High’s team competed against Whittier Regional High, North Andover High, Reading High, Timberlane Regional, and Lowell High at a Model U.N. Conference early last month at UMass Lowell.
Whittier won the competition for the last five years, but this year Haverhill High took first place, winning nine out of 15 awards, including Best Delegation.
”The competition at these events is intense,” said Zachary Simmons, Haverhill High international relations teacher and Model U.N. team advisor . “The teams debated topics like human trafficking, foreign aid to developing nations, nuclear proliferation and obesity.”
Simmons created Haverhill High’s international relations program in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The class is generally for juniors and seniors and looks at how countries, governments, organizations and people interact with each other on a global scale.
Junior Ryan Dekeon, the team’s head delegate at both the Boston College and UMass events, put in long hours pushing and training the team. He said the experience helped him become a better public speaker and researcher and has boosted his ability to work with new people.
”Most importantly, I am going into business (studies) in college, and Model U.N. is about consensus building, which is vital in business,” Dekeon said.
Although Dekeon has never taken the international relations class, many students on the team have taken it several times. Senior Dan Burrows took it twice, noting that the class “gives you an international prospective that’s unbiased.”
”Every day, the class is something different, and it all changes with the news,” Burrows said. “We all go home with heavy dinner-table discussions.”
The Model United Nations team is a part of the international relations course Simmons teaches.
Simmons and Whittier Regional High’s advisor Jana Brown are UMass Lowell graduates and studied international relations and Model U.N. there under Professor Dean Bergeron.
Taking the international relations class and participating in Model U.N. competitions can and has put students on career paths, Simmons said.
Haverhill High 2005 graduate Christine Fitzpatrick recently visited Simmons’ international relations class. She talked to students about how her participation in a Model U.N. competition at Northestern University lead to her attending that school and obtaining a degree in global media with a minor in international affairs.
”I went to Northeastern after we won a competition there,” she said. “Through Mr. Simmons’ program at the high school, I got perspective on affairs that affect the global landscape, like the war in Afghanistan. I ended up working at National Geographic and received an Emmy nomination for my research.
“Honestly, I attribute my professional experience and career path to the educational experience in the Model U.N. and international relatoins classes in high school,” Fitzpatrick said.
Other visitors to Simmons’ class have included Boston Consul General of Germany Rolf Schutte, former student Jason Toney of the Bard College Palestinian Youth Initiative, and Mayor James Fiorentini.
In March, Haverhill High’s team participated in the National High School Model U.N. competition in New York City, the biggest event of its kind in history. Over the last nine years, nine Haverhill High students have worked at the event as college students, including three this year. More than 3,000 students from around the world participated.
”Having Haverhill High School students that involved is incredible,” Simmons said.
Senior George Bonner, head delegate for Haverhill High’s New York trip, said Simmons’ International Relations class provides students with an insight to the many worldwide issues that other classes never touch upon. Bonner was an award-winner at the Boston College event.
”I am majoring in government and international politics at George Mason University as a direct result of Model U.N. and the International Relations class,” Bonner said. “Word has spread how immensely successful the program is and kids want in.”