After seven years of advising the Model UN Club at Westwood High School, Chris Hilton decided this year to do something different. The faculty advisor for the group had long been one of the few with an insider’s view of what the students were doing, year in and year out; he believed that needed to change.
This year, he established Model UN Family Night.
“I would hear from so many parents that they were glad their kids were doing it,” Hilton said, “But they had no idea what it was.”
Hilton pointed out that with many student activities, it’s easy for families to see exactly what the students are doing. They can sit and watch students compete on a field, or listen to a band concert, but Model UN is different.
“Model UN is not a spectator sport,” Hilton explained. “These students are doing it for each other, and no one is watching.”
As the new school year began, Hilton met with the students to plan a way that parents could not only see what they were doing, but also be part of the experience. Senior Jess Muzzi thought it was the perfect idea.
“Our parents send us off to these weekend or day-long conferences, but have no idea what we’re doing,” she said. “This was our chance to show them what we do.”
While Muzzi’s mother had chaperoned a couple of her field trips, her father had never had the chance. They were both there for Family Night.
On the evening of October 24, parents and students gathered at the high school for the event. It began with a presentation that explained the role the United Nations plays in the world. Most people are familiar with its peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, but the UN also targets hunger, disease, climate change, and other challenges around the globe.
After the presentation, the parents and students separated into groups and each received a problem for which they needed to find a solution. It became the job of all the participants – adults and students alike – to come up with a plan and present it back to the group.
The fictional problem to solve was black mold in a Westwood elementary school. They had to consider a variety of plans for how to deal with the situation. As in typical Model UN conferences, parents had to argue for specific positions, regardless of how they personally felt. For Muzzi, that was an important part of showing them what Model UN is all about.
“It was fun seeing them push the boundaries of what they’re comfortable with,” she said.
Hilton also liked the aspect of putting parents into the situation of arguing for something in which they may not actually believe.
“I was impressed how quickly they took to their assigned roles,” he said. “You could tell which ones were attorneys. Some really liked to argue.”
In the end, what Hilton liked seeing the best was the students taking charge. They had to plan the program and run the event. Hilton said he mainly reserved the auditorium and provided some doughnuts. The kids did the rest.
Westwood High Principal Sean Bevan also took part, playing the role of Superintendent for the night. Just like the parents, it was the first time he experienced what Model UN is all about.
Hilton said he hopes to put this event on the calendar every year and not just for the parents. It also gives freshmen a chance to participate in the club for the first time and work together with older peers.
“We see ninth-graders and 12th graders working together when they typically would not. I think this really brings them together.”
Muzzi sees something even bigger than that, both in Family Night and Model UN altogether.
“It’s true democracy in action,” she said. “You usually don’t see that sort of thing anymore.”