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High school students pilot test new simulation for ICONS

A cohort of students from Calvert High School were given the opportunity to pilot test a new ICONS simulation Nov. 17.

ICONS creates online and in-person simulations, some of which portray real world crises and assign participants roles in which they are forced to interact and cooperate with one another despite conflicting political interests and shifting allegiances. The Calvert High School students are part of a specially-designed social studies course focused on learning about international issues through simulations. Their teacher, Bill McGowan, eager to connect his class to resources on international relations and simulations, reached out to ICONS early in the school year to begin a partnership. ICONS staff visited the school in September to offer an introduction to simulations, and McGowan and his class planned a field trip to START offices in November.

Audrey Tetteh, the education program director at ICONS, was thrilled with the professionalism and quality of feedback the students provided to the team.

“This is a top-notch group of students and our whole team was extremely impressed with their maturity, their engagement and their critical thinking skills on these complex issues,” Tetteh said.

Jon Jory, a student at Calvert High School who has participated in multiple simulations, said ICONS has taught him how his decisions have consequences, and how to own up to those consequences whether they are beneficial or detrimental.

“Honestly, the simulations have taught me more social interaction skills and more about the world than most courses in school,” Jory said.

Chann Cortes valued how the simulations manage to entertain as well as inform.

“During one simulation, our class managed to jokingly debate over resolutions while we gained an understanding for the complexities behind forging compromises,” Chann said. “We also learned about the history and horror of certain human rights violations.”

The Calvert High School students tested a simulation that takes place in Darfur, in which students were placed in groups that represented the CIA, the Department of Defense, the Department of State and USAID to address a situation in the region circa 2006. The students had to practice interagency collaboration and coordination while learning about the atrocities in Darfur and those responsible, according to Tetteh.

Vincent Sullens, another participating student, said the simulation gave him a good sense of the intricacies of bipartisan negotiation.

Sullens said, “I really got a sense of the complexities that go into the communication and interplay between different departments in order to come to a unified action, or inaction, plan.”

Breonna Smith enjoyed the behind the scenes peak into how the simulations come together. She also enjoyed the spontaneity of the Darfur simulation.

“When we got the random newsletter thrown into the simulation it made everything more intriguing and it forced us to consider our next move,” Smith said.

As an additional bonus, the students participated in the simulation at START headquarters. They were able to talk to working professionals and interns about what to expect after high school. Nolan
McGrane noted that the field trip opened his eyes to opportunities he might have missed out on otherwise.

“Seeing these opportunities, such as internships at the State Department or START, helped me realize that I need to actively seek out professional experience to better myself, rather than rely on others to bring them to my attention,” McGrane said.

"ICONS is the single greatest course for facilitating 16-18 year-old high school students in gaining authentic college and career Social Studies skills," McGowan said. "Bringing these young adults to START and the University of Maryland campus was the single best day -- in terms of offering my students that kind of preparation and interaction with fine professionals -- that I have ever had the pleasure to experience in my twenty years as an educator."