Ian Wurch adjusted his tie, drew a deep breath, and cleared his throat as he positioned himself at the head of a long conference table surrounded by his peers at the Middle School Model U.N. Conference. The conference was hosted by Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) and featured a keynote address from former U.S. Ambassador Patricia Butenis.
Ian, an eighth grader from the Rumson Country Day School (RCDS), was cast in the role of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. His challenge: Propose a resolution to one of history’s most complex diplomatic emergencies, the Cuban Missile Crisis. Ian was one of nine seventh and eighth graders on the RCDS Model U.N. team, which collaborated with students from eight schools to simulate a United Nations committee. The RCDS Model U.N. team exhibited poise and skill in winning the “Best Delegation” Award at the conference. “Model U.N. is a good way put yourself in a situation that you would not normally be accustomed to,” Ian said. “It forces you to become comfortable with yourself.”
Against the backdrop of an election season where political discourse was less than cordial, the students handled themselves with great composure and maturity. “Our students were fearless going into the conference,” said Danielle Devine Greene, whose daughter, Lila, was one of Ian’s teammates. “It is absolutely stunning to watch your child, and the children you’ve known since they were in nursery school, walk into a public-speaking situation like that so calm and so prepared. It makes you stop and say, ‘Wow! Who are these kids?’ We really saw what RCDS students can do when they have an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and teamwork under pressure.” Ambassador Butenis echoed these themes in her keynote address. She spoke about the importance of open-mindedness and diplomacy, and led a Q&A with students that focused on how people with differences can work together, as well as the role that respect plays in that process.
According to Tom Scott, head of the RCDS history department, extracurricular programs such as Model U.N. support the school’s academic curriculum with content in foreign politics and social issues. “They also reinforce a key part of our mission,” he explained. “Students here are taught to look at issues from new perspectives and respect others’ differences while working toward a common goal.” Public speaking and debate skills, he added, are an important part of the RCDS culture and curriculum, starting in preschool – something that Ian and his teammates have come to appreciate. “You’ll always have an unsettling feeling before a presentation,” said Ian, who will graduate from RCDS this spring. “I’ve learned to control this, because public speaking has been integrated into a lot of my classes and activities, from school plays in the past all the way to the debate team today.”