In country:  Cocalico students learn what it takes to handle a nation’s affairs

By on April 6, 2016

Given 8,000 square miles of mostly hot, dry land, an overpopulation problem, and a thousand-year-long conflict with a neighboring nation, what kind of government would you build?

Photos by Kimberly Marselas Junior Sam Donmoyer (left) and senior Alex Freed sign a trade agreement.

Photos by Kimberly Marselas
Junior Sam Donmoyer (left) and senior Alex Freed sign a trade agreement.

More than 40 civics and government studies students at Cocalico High School were handed similar scenarios earlier recently and asked to create a functioning economy, a legal system, and some form of political leadership.
Just when they thought they’d finished the week-long research project, teachers Chris Buck and Mike Bertolino threw a series of real-world challenges at them, forcing their hands as negotiators in the face of terrorism and the theft of nuclear weapons.
“The goal of this project is to have the students experience government creation and policy making in as authentic of an environment as possible,” Buck explained. “The crisis phase is pretty fun. The kids freak out.”

Cocalico junior Harley Davis develops a Bill of Rights for the made-up country of Belka, while junior Julia Winters creates the national flag.

Cocalico junior Harley Davis develops a Bill of Rights for the made-up country of Belka, while junior Julia Winters creates the national flag.

Country-building at Cocalico dates back 11 years, when Buck and Bertolino paired up to develop an exercise that could incorporate everything from resource management to political ideology. The idea is to help students see how domestic problems, international crises, diplomacy, and military programs influence and test different types of government.
Divided into eight groups, the students spent several days pouring over a set of established facts — how much water they need, how much natural gas they have, farmable land, and life expectancy to name a few — and calculating where they might have surpluses.

Money talks in international diplomacy, students learn.

Money talks in international diplomacy, students learn.

They also had to create a government, a country name, currency, and flags. Most opted for democracies or constitutional monarchies and established ambassadors to negotiate with fellow statesmen. The students of Belka formed a socialist democracy, complete with a Bill of Rights.
“It’s based on the American Bill of Rights, but we’re trying to make it a little more free, more morally based,” explained junior Harley Davis.
Meanwhile, his fellow countryman Jeffrey Foder, also a junior, decided whether or not to sign a nuclear non-proliferation treaty another nation was floating around the cafeteria.
“I think trading’s the most difficult thing,” said junior Bri Flickinger. “We need minerals so bad, but we have plenty of water and money. Nobody wants to trade. We’re all creating enemies with each other.”
Bertolino explained to a group that needed natural gas and timber that they could look for other fuel options, only to learn the girls had already traded away most of the uranium they might have used for a power plant.
“Part of the solution is keeping track of what resources other countries have,” Bertolino told them. “Could you trade 100 tons of the uranium you have left for something even more valuable?”
Some nations used technology to combat supply shortages, creating electronic currency to be used for government spending, as well as metal coins for general exchange because they didn’t have the resources to make paper money.

Junior Sarah Good draws a map of Harenam, a sandy, socialist country with 40 million citizens.

Junior Sarah Good draws a map of Harenam, a sandy, socialist country with 40 million citizens.

Back in that 8,000 square miles of mostly desert land — think of a nation about the size of New Jersey —  Aubrey Lawrence and Sam Danmoyer made a map illustrating their third-world economy’s best asset and biggest security threat: some 237 miles of coastline. After some careful strategizing, Harrenam was able to trade some of its surplus minerals for much-needed petroleum from Ekoorb.
On the project’s final day, the teachers surprised the students with emergency scenarios. Each nation was expected to play a role suited to the government style and foreign policy stance it had adopted, so Buck explained isolationist nations should stay out of issues they have nothing to do with.
If others governed in the style of Woodrow Wilson, they might try to police the entire world during a crisis. Though each nation’s leaders met to discuss missing nuclear weapons, they didn’t work quickly enough to prevent a nuclear terrorist attack in one country’s capital.
That led to the swift creation of a NATO-like body that put in place global economic sanctions, with the threat of follow-up military action.
Students were ultimately graded on several factors, including their resource and trade calculations, the process they used to establish their government and their contributions to the foreign policy negotiations.
“I like how the students have to approach this project,” Bertolino said. “They’ve only ever thought of government from the perspective of a citizen. Now they are the government they want to create.”

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