CHAMPLAIN — While many high-school students were worrying about passing chemistry or geometry, Ian Pummell was losing sleep over something else — the hacking of Nicaragua's government websites.
The Beekmantown High School sophomore spent hours researching the topic in preparation for representing Nicaragua at the 35th-annual North Country Model United Nations Conference at Northeastern Clinton Central School.
Participating in the recent event were nearly 500 high-school students from 13 area schools in New York and Vermont. Home-schooled teens also took part in the three-day conference.
The youths split into committees of delegates representing a total of about 125 countries. And they met to discuss some of the world's most pressing issues from the points of view of their assigned nations.
"They have these issues, and (in) each of these committees, they're trying to solve these issues through debate and (they're) trying to create a resolution," said Katherine Dermody, North Country Model United Nations adviser.
This year's gathering included such topics as the international debt crisis, cyber crimes, democracy in the Middle East and child trafficking.
Students also participated in mock legal proceedings, in which the International Court of Justice tried Pakistan for harboring Osama Bin Laden.
"That's why the North Country Model U.N. has been here for 35 years, because there are always world events going on," Dermody said. "There are always issues that need to be resolved."
At the sessions, delegates held up placards bearing the name of their countries in hopes that a moderator would grant them permission to speak. Once a delegate was given the floor, he or she had a brief opportunity to articulate the thoughts and concerns of his or her nation before another delegate was allowed to weigh in on the discussion.
While the students awaited their turns to contribute to the debate, they pored over pages of research, whispered ideas to co-delegates and scribbled notes to be shared with delegates of other countries.
During the debate on cyber crimes, Pummell eagerly awaited the opportunity to speak to other nations about Nicaragua's recent hacking incident and the importance of having cyber defenses in place.
"It's a pretty big experience," he said of the event.
In fact, it's such a big experience that students spend about a year preparing for it by extensively researching their assigned nation, its people and its current issues, explained Bianca Grimshaw, a NCCS senior.
As co-secretaries general of the conference, she and fellow senior Justine Rabideau were responsible for recruiting schools to participate in the event, assigning delegates to countries and determining which relevant issues should be debated.
"I don't know if people really realize how much work goes into it," Grimshaw said.
Participating in Model United Nations, Grimshaw explained, fosters public-speaking, negotiating and compromising skills and allows students to connect and network with their peers.
"I met a lot of friends through U.N. that are probably going to be friends for life," Rabideau said.
In addition, Dermody noted, participants learn about other nations and the issues facing today's world.
"I think this helps to create the future leaders of our country, of our world," she said. "It gives students confidence; it makes them aware of global issues that are happening and (helps) to prepare them for adult life."
But as many public schools are facing fiscal crisis, programs such as Model United Nations increasingly run the risk of being eliminated. Rabideau hopes future classes of North Country students will have the valuable opportunity she has had.
"It's really important that the schools keep these (Model United Nations programs) because you're debating real problems," she said.
"You're seeing what's going on in the world around you, and that's definitely important, considering that we are the youth of the nation, and one day, these are going to be our problems to actually have and to solve."
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