Matthew Koska (top center) with his South Houston Model U.N. team: (front) Selena Barron, Hannah Arnold, Karen Cruz and Olga Trevino; (middle) Mario Gonzalez, Alan Deleon, Meet Patel and Shivam Vakil; and (top left) Ulisses Gonzalez.
By AL CARTER
Pasadena ISD Communications
If Matthew Koska's dream becomes reality, he'll soon be walking along the East River, looking up at the teal facade of United Nations Headquarters, looking for the entrance through which he'll escort a contingent of South Houston High School students.
And in a New York minute, he'll remember to whip out his badge.
Just five months ago, Koska never dreamed that such a dream was even possible. A Pre-AP World Geography teacher at South Houston, Koska was approached last fall by students interested in participating in the Model United Nations program, a national organization that sponsors student simulations of U.N. proceedings and competitions in resolution craftsmanship.
Last Thursday and Friday, at the George R. Brown Convention Center, the tiny South Houston team captured top-delegation honors at the Houston Area Model United Nations conference, an event attended by 1,000 students from three dozen schools across Texas.
The nine-member South Houston squad -- the smallest at the conference and the only Pasadena ISD entry -- earned top honors among those schools designated as smaller delegations.
Two South Houston seniors -- Meet Patel and Alan Deleon - landed two of the three highest individual honors handed out to all students attending the conference.
Patel received the Best Delegate Award, the highest honor presented. Deleon received the Most Heralded Delegate prize.
"I was happy with our kids simply because they were so eager to compete," Koska says. "But to be named the outstanding delegation makes me especially proud of them."
The list of delegations included blue-ribbon private schools like Episcopal, Second Baptist, St. Agnes Academy, St. Johns and the Westchester Academy for International Studies. Some of the public schools, like Bellaire, brought enough students to fill out seven delegations.
South Houston had one. Much of the South Houston students' prep work was done at home. Group study sessions are crammed into after-school hours. Last Wednesday, the night before the area conference, Koska and team members sequestered themselves in a school computer lab until 10:30 p.m.
When Koska left the building, he was approached by a Pasadena ISD police officer. The officer wanted to know what Koska was doing in the building at such a late hour. The officer also wanted to see Koska's school district ID.
"I forgot my badge that day," Koska says. "I had to pull out my driver's license."
Security badges, as it turned out, was just about the only U.N. procedure beyond the grasp of the Trojan team.
Before the conference, the nine South Houston students were assembled in a single delegation and assigned the task of representing the nation of Mauritius, a tiny island in the Indian Ocean. What followed was a crash course on the geography and politics of Mauritius.
At the conference, students participated in a series of caucuses during which ideas were presented, arguments made and resolutions crafted.
"All I really wanted was a good experience for our kids, the opportunity to learn something new," Koska says. "But after the first day, I couldn't contain myself. I knew we had a top team."
South Houston's quest began at the end of last school year when Deleon read about the Model United Nations program and suggested to Koska that South Houston form a team.
Soon, Deleon wasn't suggesting. He was insisting.
"I said, 'Koska, we're going to do this!' " Deleon recalls. " 'We can pioneer this for the rest of the district!' "
Deleon enlisted the support of Patel, who was just as insistent.
"The new school started and I got busy and kept putting it off," Koska says.
It wasn't until the final week in September that Koska decided to do his own research.
"I got on the computer to look up the information," he says. "The next day was the deadline for registering for the workshop."
He signed his school up for the required workshop. Had he waited another day, South Houston would have been out of luck.
Meanwhile, Deleon and Patel began to recruit other team members. The final nine included three other seniors -- Olga Trevino, Mario Gonzalez and Ulisses Gonzalez -- and four juniors: Selena Barron, Karen Cruz, Shivam Vakil and Hannah Arnold.
When the Trojan nine walked into the first phase of the conference -- the General Assembly meeting -- most were in awe. Many schools had brought dozens of students. The designer labels on expensive clothes were as noticeable as the flags and banners.
"We had all studied after school or at home," Trevino says. "At lot of the students there had been preparing in their AP classes. That intimidated me."
"It was intimidating at first," Patel says. "But soon we realized that nothing was expected out of us. We could see that we were the underdogs."
With nothing to lose, the South Houston delegation went to work in their caucus sessions and quickly caught the eye of moderators.
"Being a small country, you have to make sure the larger counties are listening to us," says Patel, who had one advantage. He once visited Mauritius.
Says Patel: "We had to stand up and convince people that our resolutions were right."
And they did.
Unfortunately, the opportunity to make their arguments heard at the real U.N. will have to wait. A national conference is held each April in Manhattan, but Koska's team doesn't have the funds to attend and the deadline for registering has passed.
Still, Koska's dream has no expiration date. He hopes to take a team of Trojans to the Big Apple in 2013.
"I would like to see these seniors stick with it and take part in Model U.N. activities at the collegiate level," he says.
"And I would like to see more of these kinds of activities on our campuses. We need more activities like this that emphasize what our students can do academically."