While some people view the United Nations as little more than a joke, 800 high school students who gathered last weekend at the Washington Sheraton Hotel were taking the U.N. concept seriously. The young delegates came from five states to attend the YMCA-sponsored Model United Nations Assembly.

"I don't think what was learned about the United Nations itself was as important as learning how nations work and relate together," said Beth Newsom of Silver Spring, who assumed the role of ambassador from Barbados at the conference.

Ambassadors to the mock General Assembly debated and voted on predetermined issues. The five delegates representing a country in the assembly and councils had to express the viewpoints of that country.

In the General Assembly debates, the delegates voted against recognition of the present government of Cambodia, amended and passed a resolution condemming the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and supported a plan to place Jerusalem under international jurisdiction.

The secretary of the assembly was Juliette Tracey, a sophmore at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring.

"Holding an office helped me to understand the program more," she said. "Also working with the president of the General Assembly, Garrick Grobler of Easton, was enjoyable because he knew what he was doing. Next year I want to participate again, and to get more of the delegates from smaller countries to speak."

The conference formed committees and subcommittees, which combined their proposals and sent them to the assembly for debate.

"In committees, it was a massive compromise," said Bill Mockabee of of Silver Spring, who also represented Barbados. "We put our proposals together by discussing what would work for all of us."

A model Security Council took up delicate international issues such as the Iran-Iraq war, Afghanistan, race relations in South Africa, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the American hostages in Iran.

"Representing France in the Security Council was difficult," said Darrin Clem of Easton. "But it was also exciting taking the part of a major country with veto power."

The delegates' final proposals will be compiled into a booklet that is to be sent to the real United Nations in New York. Conference director Gail Jochen of New Jersey, who originated the program eight years ago, called this "the only way for young people to express their views to the people making decisions."

The delegates spent three months researching their conference roles. The Barbados representatives, for example, visited that country's embassy several times for foreign policy briefings.