New Canaan High School’s Model UN Club promotes a non-U.S.-centric worldview where participating students debate nuanced issues that show them a different perspective and help them become “global citizens,” according to one of the team’s leaders.
A central question facing Model UN members is not just “How can I become a good U.S. citizen?” but “How can I become a good global citizen?” according to NCHS senior Melissa Rizzo, who joined Model UN as a fifth-grader at the Zurich International School and continued in New Canaan when she arrived at Saxe Middle School as an eighth grader.
A secretary general on the team overseeing three Model UN captions and its executive board, Rizzo said she and others on the team “are exposed to a diverse range of global issues and cultures.” “
“Particularly in The Hague, sitting adjacent to 150 students who are from all over the world, you truly see the different cultures and how it comes into play in debate and how it is important to have an entity such as the UN that addresses issues—global issues—in a way that is individual and productive for each nation,” she told members of the Board of Education during their regular meeting Monday, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School.
The comments came prior to the school board voting unanimously to approve an overnight field trip for the NCHS Model UN program. Rizzo in delivering her presentation was joined at the podium by faculty advisor Paul Phillips.
Model UN is a program that helps develop research, critical thinking, persuasion, collaboration and public speaking skills, Rizzo said.
“We are debating topics that are not common knowledge and that require a lot of in-depth research,” she said. “Additionally, we are representing either nations or global leaders, therefore that critical thinking element really comes into play because we are creating resolutions for topics, but not as ourselves. We are thinking, we are adding that extra level of thinking as somebody else, embodying the goals of a nation or a world leader. Additionally, we develop persuasion. In debate, persuasion sort of comes in. We are debating different nations, different world leaders who have different agendas than us. Therefore, it is important to be persuasive, and then next, it is also important to collaborate.”
That collaboration is key to Model UN “in order to ensure that we are creating a resolution for all,” as is public speaking, according to Rizzo.
“Debating at college conferences for three or four days, and even at The Hague for a whole week, we are definitely pushed to come out of our shell and speak and really use the facts to create the basis of speeches that are often on the fly,” she said.
“Conferences teach students how to thrive in an intellectually competitive environment,” Rizzo continued. “As we move towards college and eventually our adult careers, it’s most likely that we’ll be tested on our intellectual capabilities versus our physical capabilities. Therefore, learning at a young age how to function in a pressurized environment where you are presented with problems that are unexpected and are forced to come up with solutions or are presented with new facts, it is important to develop that skill and be able to create solutions and work with others at a high intellectual capacity. Learning this and Model UN definitely sets us up for a successful college and adult career.”
Board of Ed Chair Katrina Parkhill thanked Rizzo.
“You gave a very impressive presentation and I can see why you’ve been a leader for the last two years,” she told Rizzo, who was a Model UN captain as a junior at NCHS last year.
Parkhill added, “Thank you for all your hard work.”
Asked for her major highlight in the program, Rizzo said, “That our leadership as a captain’s team has on delegates. We see freshman delegates growing to sophomores and juniors and just become so much more confident as public speakers. And that’s truly rewarding because I see not only how rewarding Model UN is for me personally and how much I’ve learned, but also how much I’ve been able to teach others.”
In fact, camaraderie is another major pus of Model UN, Rizzi said.
“Working with a group of people so closely, traveling with them overnight, you become like a family,” she said. “[We] support each other through debate and personally, and we really learn the value of team spirit. Our priorities for this year are to develop younger delegates.”
There currently are about 50 Model UN team members, many of whom are underclassmen, Rizzi said, and it’s “highly important to us to pass on that generational knowledge of how to be a good Model UN delegate and team member.”
“Therefore, it is as simple as after each Monday Model UN meeting, we present a short Model UN tip on parliamentary procedure,” she said. “This way, parliamentary procedure, which is very important to Model UN, is broken up in small chunks, allowing delegates to really absorb the information to then eventually put it into practice in our scrimmages and college conferences.”
The team will attend four to five college conferences this year, at UConn, Brown, Georgetown, Dartmouth and/or Cornell, Rizzo said.
This academic year, in May, NCHS will host the Model UN’s 13th “Sophomore Simulation.”
Run by NCHS students and now mandatory for sophomores, the Simulation “has become their history final,” Rizzo said.
“In doing this, we now have the numbers and the engagement to create really fun and interesting rooms to challenge our debaters, to challenge the sophomores,” she said. “It is student-run by the Model UN team, therefore our experienced delegates have the opportunity to lead a room, to chair a room, and to also take part in the back room. In doing so, we are allowing our students to continue to develop their leadership abilities.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi said the Sophomore Simulation involves “an incredible amount of wor” and “a great introduction” to Model UN.
Rizzo noted that most of the time, the sophomores in the Simulation “aren’t involved in Model UN.
“It becomes a history classroom assignment,” she said. “It becomes their final. So our team members lead rooms and chair rooms, and the entire sophomore grade participates. They are highly engaged, and it’s always a very positive experience, which is beneficial to our recruitment numbers.”
Parkhill wished Rizzo and the Club “good luck in all of your upcoming competitions.”