Preparing high school students academically for college completion is certainly necessary and essential, but it is not sufficient. High schools must also equip their students with the tacit knowledge about the norms, expectations, and traditions of the university context that pose significant barriers to successful college completion, especially for first-generation college students. Students at Harvest Collegiate High School in New York City get this kind of preparation through their participation in a powerful extracurricular activity that increases their confidence and exposure to the broader world along with their capacity to effectively interact with those from diverse backgrounds—all skills that enhance college completion.

Through the school’s Model United Nations Club (MUN) students participate in a variety of virtual and in-person experiences where they interact with students from all over the world. Teachers Laura Marino and Gina Moss are the MUN sponsors.  During Year 1 students meet for one-and-one-half hours after school every Tuesday to learn and practice developing policy papers; using proper protocol for conducting meetings as well as international diplomatic protocol; and delivering key messages on global issues.   Freshman, Roxanna Ruedas loves the exposure she gets to other nations and cultures, even though she has not yet had an MUN travel experience.  “We have to do in-depth research on global topics from various perspectives,” she said. “I am thrilled when I can really articulate these issues, especially from the point of view of another nation.  I am much more confident about presenting myself and my ideas.” Roxanna emphasized that what she learns in MUN helps to improve her performance in her academic classes.

Second-year Club members attend the Yale Global Model United Nations Conference in New Haven alongside peers from 1,600 schools and 40 countries. During this four-day simulation, student delegates interact with one another through debate and diplomacy to solve complex challenges facing the world today. “The schedule is demanding and the activities are extremely rigorous,” Laura explains. “Our students felt a little intimidated and out of their element at first.”  When they expressed their concern that the other students didn’t look and talk like them, the teachers’ responded, “You have just met your competition for Yale and Columbia.” The next semester, every participating student’s GPA shot up by at least one and a half grade points.  Senior Lucas Gomes says that his most meaningful learning is that groups of individuals from highly diverse backgrounds can genuinely come together to solve complex problems. “I am a more critical and analytical thinker and more globally aware,” he states. “I now have the confidence to engage in meaningful conversation with people from all races, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds.”  Lucas plans to study cultural anthropology in college and pursue a career with the UN. “Before the MUN, I would never have been aware of the UN as a career option.”

In November 2015, thirteen Harvest Collegiate HS MUN members attended the Model United Nations International Conference in Budapest, thanks to support from the entire school.  Eleven of the students had never been out of the country, and two had never flown before. Laura and Gina proudly pointed out that Harvest Collegiate HS was the only public high school in the world to attend the Budapest Conference.  “All of the other students,” said Gina,“were from private schools, and most were students from wealthy, privileged backgrounds.” Senior Jerry Wong has participated in MUN since his sophomore year. “At first, especially at the conferences, I was nervous,” he said. “I thought that the other students were more prepared than I was because they were all from private schools, but I soon discovered that I was just as prepared as they were, sometimes in different ways.  I felt really good when a delegate from another country asked me to be a signatory on her resolution.” Jerry, who plans to major in political science and become a teacher, says, “The MUN experience has been invaluable.  I want to do something that matters. I believe more strongly in myself; I’m a better person.  Now, when I want to do something—I just go for it.”

Harvest Students attend Budapest Model United Nations conference“The MUN at Harvest Collegiate HS is an example of the many ways that ISA partner schools enact ISA’s principle of extended day/school year opportunities,” said ISA President Gerry House.  “Our schools make sure that their students graduate with not only the academic knowledge but also the self-confidence, communications skills, and exposure to the greater world that are essential to successfully navigate the college context as well as life beyond the university campus.”