Bellefonte students take home awards at international Model U.N. conference

PHOTO PROVIDED Members of the Model U.N. club at Bellefonte pose for a group photo. There is a total of 22 students currently in the club.

BELLEFONTE — For the first time ever, the Bellefonte Area High School Model U.N. team attended an international competition, where they took home four of 44 awards.

A lot of hard work in terms of planning, fundraising and execution went into the competition, which took place Feb. 9 through Feb. 12 at the University of Toronto, according to club adviser Edward Fitzgerald. Bellefonte was the only school in the state of Pennsylvania to attend the conference in Canada, which was attended by more than 515 high school students, including students from three American schools, a school in China and a school in Turkey.

“It took two years of planning and two years of fundraising to be able to attend this very unique conference,” Fitzgerald said.

One student, junior Brian Feldman, took home the highest honor given: “Best Delegate.” Feldman said that the Model U.N. competitions are scored on a variety of things, from how accurately a student represents their country to writing resolution papers, basically whatever they can do to stand out from everyone else in the room.

“It was probably one of the most proud moments of my life,” Feldman said. “I was just really happy, because it was an international conference and I worked really hard for this one.”

Two other Bellefonte students, senior Jordan Emely and junior Alex Hunziker, took home awards for “Outstanding Delegate.”

“It was pretty cool, because you’re in a committee room for three days there, so you definitely can see the contenders of who is going to be at the very top, and you want to be better than them,” Emely said. “So, it’s pretty heated in the room, but then at the very end, everybody just wants to root for one another.”

And quite a lot of effort goes into the competitions, where students do a lot of preparation, including study sessions every morning, to participate on various committees, based upon the country they are assigned for the competition.

“It was really great, since this is the biggest conference I’ve ever been to and the one that I’ve cared the most about, so I put a lot of effort into trying to do my best,” Hunziker said. “When it actually paid off, it was very rewarding.”

The fourth Bellefonte student to take home an award was junior Cam McKee, who received “Honorable Mention.”

“It was just a great experience — all the hard work that I put into it and not knowing through the whole conference whether you’re on the top or in the middle,” he said. “It feels good to be rewarded and show that your hard work pays off and that you were able to succeed in what you were trying to get your point across from.”

Although it was a lot of hard work, students did have a lot of fun during their trip to Toronto.

During the trip to Toronto, Bellefonte students were able to take advantage of some cultural sightseeing between debate times, Fitzgerald said. Thanks to two generous family members, the club was able to go on two tours: one of Casa Loma, an early 1900s Gothic Revival-style mansion, and one of the Rogers Centre, where the Toronto Blue Jays play.

To afford attending the international conference, the club did a GoFundMe page and received donations from a variety of civic organizations, according to Fitzgerald. The Model U.N. club typically participates in two to three conferences each year, and the next one will be a state competition at Lycoming College in April, Fitzgerald said.

When it comes to opportunities for Model U.N., Bellefonte is very fortunate. While other schools in the county form a Model U.N. for a year and then disappear, often due to funding, Bellefonte Area High School has had a Model U.N. club for decades, 21 of which Fitzgerald said he has been club adviser.

“There’s a lot of Model U.N. teams that are not either funded or allowed to even form anymore, and a lot of the high schools have lost that, and that’s a huge loss for students like this that want to learn, want to debate, and want to learn to write better,” he said. “We’re lucky we live in a community and a district with a board and an administration that is so supportive.”

It is easy to see why students join Model U.N. and have a lot of fun being a part of the club.

“I joined Model U.N. because I think it’s really neat to have the opportunity to look at things from an outside country’s perspective and be able to discuss and debate those issues with other people representing other countries,” said junior Nathan Smith.

One student who has enjoyed participating in the club during her entire high school career is senior Wylyn McCullough, who sees the club as beneficial preparation for the real world.

“I think the most important part is probably just being able to introduce kids that I’ve seen that are quite shy or aren’t into debating to politics and being able to introduce them to world history, helping them to research and learn things that are very vital to the new modern age, I guess, of politics,” she said. “This is probably the only club I’ve ever seen where it integrates public speaking and all of these other skills so thoroughly; that helps students to really transition and become better adults.”

Looking at the group of students who comprise Model U.N. at Bellefonte, 22 in total, Fitzgerald said they are future.

“I think we all can say that everybody who’s a part of Model United Nations and everybody who’s open to diplomacy, no matter what their political views are, we can change the world like no other,” Emeley said. “There were 500 kids there who can easily and potentially become future global leaders who can make the world a better place.”