YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Los Angeles

Students Take Roles on a World Stage

A mock United Nations conference on the day's most pressing issues sparks an interest in politics among 180 L.A. Unified 'delegates.'

June 01, 2003|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

Representatives from many of the 191 nations that make up the United Nations, from Iraq to Bulgaria, discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, terrorism, economic development and human rights for child refugees at a mock U.N. meeting in Los Angeles on Saturday.

But some of the delegates wore braces or baggy Sean John outfits, and a few were barely 5 feet tall.

That's because all of the political decision-makers were Los Angeles Unified School District middle and high school students.

The daylong simulated U.N. conference at the Marriott hotel near Los Angeles International Airport was part of the "global classroom," an international program sponsored by the United Nations Assn. of the United States of America, a nonprofit, nonpartisan foreign policy organization with more than 175 chapters nationwide. The organization encourages civic action on social and economic issues.

Some of the 180 student delegates on Saturday were as young as 12 years old, but the issues they tackled were complex.

In one room, 15 members of the Security Council engaged in a debate about the "road map" for peace, the U.S. plan aimed at ending the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. The plan demands an end to Palestinian violence and the freezing of Jewish construction of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in an effort to establish a Palestinian state by 2005.

"Fellow delegates," said Arvind Maheshwari, 15, a Venice High School student who was acting as the representative from Pakistan. "We feel the Palestinians haven't been getting enough of their share. We feel the Security Council should strengthen this road map and work together to continue this. And we must end these continued attacks from both sides."

The group then broke for a caucus, and Maheshwari tried to convince Spain's delegate, Gabriela Davila, 15, from South Gate High, to side with his country.

"Our Islamic brothers are dying there as a result of Israel's continuing invasions into their territory," he told Davila, as she nodded in understanding.

Later in the day, the Security Council's leader presented a fictitious situation: President Bush was assassinated while participating in secret peace negotiations with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In reaction, the United States launched air raids against Lebanon, Jordan and Palestinian targets after its intelligence agents said they had located terrorist groups.

Acting U.S. delegate Stephanie Choo, 16, of Venice High, defended her country's actions.

"We had strategic information about terrorist groups in those locations," she said. "We had to think quickly and act to prevent other civilian casualties."

But Choo later backed down and agreed to sign a resolution for a cease-fire.

"We are testing how they will interact with other countries when situations pop up," said Vick Kapoor, a UCLA political science student who chaired the Security Council.

Choo said she didn't expect such a challenge when she was invited to the conference, but she enjoyed the debate.

"My teacher told me, 'You are going to represent the United States,' and I was like, 'Oh, my God. I'm going to be attacked.' And I was."

Lucia Rodriguez, executive director of the program, said this is the first year it has been available to L.A. Unified students. Although it has been available to high school students since the 1940s, it only recently began involving youths from larger urban districts such as Boston, New York, Chicago, Houston, Tampa, Fla., and Los Angeles, she said.

"It has traditionally been an elite sort of experience for those kids who are going to [schools like] Harvard," she said. "It hasn't really trickled down to all children. A lot of times, the expectation is they can't do this. They can't read or write. They're not interested in the world."

But Los Angeles students proved those critics wrong, she said. Most of the 180 students from 11 schools who attended Saturday's conference have been meeting voluntarily after school, during lunch and on weekends for the last nine months to learn about world politics.

She said advisors from the United Nations Assn. work regularly with teachers on the curriculum, which is offered to schools for free. The program is sponsored by groups such as the Annenberg Foundation, the Ross Institute and the Better World Fund.

For students like Davila, Spain's delegate, the program has sparked an interest in politics. "I wasn't really that aware of political affairs, and now I am," she said. "I've been blind. I didn't know the world had this many problems. I thought maybe I could help find a solution."

Los Angeles Times Articles