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‘A different learning experience’ at Bow High School

  • Bow High School student Joey Place represents the country of Sudan during a diplomacy simulation on Friday. GEOFF FORESTERMonitor staff

  • Sarah Sibley, vice president for citizen diplomacy at World Boston, led the diplomacy simulation, along with Tim Horgan, executive director of the World Affairs Council of N.H. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/16/2021 1:01:28 PM

They may not have graduated high school yet, but 24 students temporarily became top diplomats from three nations and two intergovernmental organizations on Friday, debating, orating and negotiating for peace in a Bow High School classroom.  

Sophomores in Gina Aubin and Nick Watson’s ‘America in the World’ humanities course at Bow High School participated in a diplomacy simulation Friday, lead by representatives from the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire and World Boston. Pretending it was the year 2009, students were divided into small groups representing the U.S. Department of State, the United Nations, the African Union, the Republic of Sudan, the People’s Republic of China and humanitarian organization Save the Children, to negotiate to end violence in the region, including mass atrocity crimes against civilians in Darfur.

“It went with our theme of building community,” Aubin said. “And we really are trying to engage students in thinking about other people, not just ourselves, and how we can make an impact even in the small microcosm of our classroom and even now looking at Darfur.”

Aubin, an English teacher, and Watson, a social studies teacher, began planning for the simulation in June, with a goal of partnering with an outside organization to do a classroom activity that would promote empowerment and self-efficacy.

“We saw this as an opportunity to have our kids do a collaboration, communication, all those skills that we are looking for them to find and really push themselves,” Aubin said. “This is definitely pushing them.”

Sarah Sibley, vice president for citizen diplomacy at World Boston, led the activity with Tim Horgan, executive director of the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire. The goals of the peacekeeping simulation, according to Sibley, are to get students to understand the complexity of foreign relations and understand the role of different stakeholders’ perspectives in doing diplomacy. It also gets them to practice diplomacy skills like communication, leadership and creativity.

“It’s really all about being in an environment where you can practice working together, but you’re doing this in a way where you’re role-playing,” Sibley told the students. “It’s like you’re in a movie. You’re a different character. You’ve got a different set of opinions and perspectives than you might have as your own person.”

The simulation began with each student stakeholder group delivering an opening statement explaining their group’s position on the violence in Darfur. Then reps from each group met to negotiate terms. Each student had packets, put together by the National Museum of American Diplomacy, which provided background info and explained their positions. The discussion became animated as students embodied their characters, with some standing on chairs for emphasis while making opening statements. Negotiating quickly became “chaotic,” as sophomore Casey Bowes put it, when students discovered they had conflicting agendas, and tried to trade resources including money and oil – and at one point the state of Florida – to negotiate their goals.

Reports from the student groups indicated that negotiations were more challenging than expected, but also that it was a fun new way of engaging with classroom material.

“It’s a different learning experience,” said sophomore John Fini.

Bowes agreed.

“The closest I’ve ever come to doing this is with my friends,” Bowes said.

Even after the representative meetings ended, students continued to cross the room for some last-minute bargaining, a level of participation Aubin said she wasn’t expecting.

The National Museum of American Diplomacy has 13 diplomacy simulations for classrooms available on their website, with topics like international migration, border security and Ebola. Organizations like New Hampshire’s World Affairs Council and World Boston help teachers implement the simulations in classrooms.

For New Hampshire’s World Affairs Council, which also runs the trivia competition NH Academic WorldQuest, holding programs like this in schools is a way of getting students interested in world affairs beyond the typical classroom material.

“It’s just an opportunity for us to try and engage schools in a different way,” said Horgan. “This is potentially a good program for us to engage students who might not think that they’re interested in international affairs.”

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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