GBS Model U.N. team finds success through peer support

The Glenbrook South Model United Nations team has won numerous awards over the years.

But this team never measures its success with trophies.

“We’ve grown in size and in awards, but we compete for our own enjoyment,” said Lori Steffel, vice president. “We are all friends no matter our ages. We talk about Model U.N., and we also talk about how life is going. There’s a family atmosphere between underclassmen and upperclassmen.”

The team was originally started 8 years ago by advisor Terry Jozwik while he was teaching social studies at GBS. Model U.N. competitions were first popular on the east and west coasts, Terry said, explaining that the Midwest is now becoming more of a powerhouse with Glenbrook South being a key contender. 

“More and more schools are becoming interested in Model U.N.,” Terry said. “The students are taking ownership over the team. They’re becoming teachers of their peers, and our leaders go on to excel at the college level.”

At Model U.N. competitions, or “conferences,” students typically role play delegates to the United Nations and simulate committees. Outstanding delegates in each committee are recognized and given an award certificate. Additional awards are given to teams that perform best overall. 

Knowledge is power

Terry believes that knowledge is power when it comes to Model U.N.

“These kids are improving their writing skills, public speaking skills, collaborative skills… ,” Terry said. “It’s real-world experience for them because they’re dealing with hundreds of people at competitions. Even if they don’t win an award, they learn a lot.”

President Yoana Sidzhimova said that Model U.N. has taught her the meaning of teamwork. She joined as a freshman and soon looked toward upperclassmen to understand how to find real solutions to complex problems. 

“At first I only joined Model U.N. to earn extra credit in world history class,” Yoana said. “But then I met a lot of older kids who I looked up to, and they made me want to do well. It’s honestly the best group of people – you’ve got the varsity football captain working with the president of the juggling club.”

Yoana said that she was able to learn from people who genuinely enjoyed the competitions once she got beyond her own “need-to-win” mindset. 

“That’s when the awards came naturally,” Yoana said. “… when we were working together to find solutions.”

Fostering leadership

The support Yoana felt during her freshman and sophomore years made her want to become a leader, too. 

“Someone saw potential in me, and I wanted to have that same affect on people,” Yoana said.

As Yoana is graduating this spring, and the team is electing a new president, she said that she hopes the team “won’t lose sight of who they are.” 

“We’re in a good place,” Yoana said. “We’re a really close-knit family, and we are also very good at competing. Of course there’s pressure to do well, but it’s important that the team never cracks under pressure. They need to be there to boost each other up. I think if we ever got too focused on winning awards, we would lose that special bond.”

Intellectual competition

Co-advisor and social studies teacher Nyssa Beckwith joined the GBS Model U.N. Team this year. Being a huge sports fanatic, Nyssa said she was most surprised to see how competitive Model U.N. can be at a more intellectual level.

“These kids are amazing,” she said. “I walk in, and they’re casually talking about how to disarm Iran. They’re always engaged.”

Nyssa said the club also promotes open-mindedness because the students often have to take a position of a country that they don’t necessarily agree with. 

“They persevere no matter how hard of a session they’ve had,” Nyssa said. “They never count themselves out.”

GBS Model U.N. won eight awards during the 2016-17 school year. They were one of only three teams to win an Award of Distinction at the national conference in New York this past March. In addition, student leaders were recently invited to speak at the Illinois State University History Conference and were featured in the John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth’s Imagine Magazine.

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GBS Model U.N. team finds success through peer support