" I’ve learned so much about Judaism, and I’ve been able to experience so much."
By Steve Sadin
Debaters from three local high schools — Highland Park, Deerfield and Chicagoland Jewish (CJHS) — can say they have experience with world domination.
When more than 3,200 students from over 200 schools in more than 27 countries gather in New York each year for the competitive Model UN Conference, that is exactly what happens.
This year CJHS finished second in the March tournament, with some individual students from the school and Highland Park students distinguishing themselves, too. Deerfield did not send a team this year, but two years ago, Highland Park took the top spot with Chicagoland and Deerfield tying for second.
“It’s pretty amazing that the three best teams were all from 847,” CJHS senior Rachel Small of Deerfield said, referring to the region’s area code. She is one of the members of a team that took second the last three years.
Highland Park program advisor Joe Brysiewicz says his school is tops in part because of the way more seasoned participants help the newer ones.
“The key to our success is student leadership and ownership,” Brysiewicz said. “The senior and junior students work with the younger ones and bring them along. I’m proud of this mentoring.”
Ask some of the competitors from CJHS why they have been dominant in recent years, and their answer is not too different.
“When we were freshmen the juniors and seniors were role models for us,” Charlotte Kamin, a CJHS senior from Highland Park, said.
If the refrain sounds familiar, there is good reason. Myra Loras built Highland Park’s program into a national powerhouse from 1990 to until 2009, when she retired as a teacher there. Her retirement was brief, however, since three months later she took charge of the CJHS program. Within three years, it finished second to Highland Park in a tie with Deerfield.
“Myra built up the program to rely on student ownership,” Brysiewicz said.
“Myra is a great coach,” added CJHS student Julia Moti of Glenview. “She prepares us very well.”
Both Brysiewicz and Loras believe the upper-class mentoring does more than simply foster program success.
“It develops leadership skills,” said CJHS senior Ari Spellman of Northbrook. “We learned from the seniors” — and now he and his classmates are paying it forward.
Loras gives the credit for success to her students, emphasizing some of the challenging choices they make.
During competition, the students fill the role of diplomats from a particular country. At CJHS, they have selected nations that would give them an opportunity to learn a point of view different from their own, she explained.
“They wanted to be from an Islamic country to get a look at the culture,” Loras said.
Two years ago, the students represented Turkey and last year, Saudi Arabia. This year it was Germany.
On the final day of the conference, eight of the 22 students honored as speakers — Sarah Levin, Maya Resnick, Ruli Warner-Rosen, Melissa Levin, Jason Taitz, Noa Gorden-Guterman, Ariel Efergen and Zev Mishell — were from the CJHS program. Loras was touched to see each of them ascend the podium wearing a yarmulke in the school’s colors as it was announced they were representing Germany.
“It was such a powerful image,” Loras said.
There was an additional obstacle this year. Six members of the CJHS group are members of the boys’ basketball team, which was playing in the sectional final of the state tournament March 8, the final day of the Model UN conference.
“It was an amazing feeling when they announced we were second,” Kamin said. “We didn’t have the basketball boys, [but] every person played a role in our success.”
To view the original article, visit http://highlandpark.suntimes.com/news/schools/modelun-HPN-03272014:article.