BAYONNE, NJ – Student interests in understanding world politics, forging new relationships, and honing their public speaking skills are motivating factors behind an energized Bayonne High School Model United Nations Program, according to students and the educators involved in the program.
In addition, the fledgling program recently received a shot of adrenaline through a financial contribution from former Bayonne Schools Superintendent Dr. Patricia McGeehan.
In Model United Nations, students take on the role of delegates and represent one of the members states of the United Nations, according to club adviser Evan Wexler.
“Students debate contemporary global issues such as poverty, human rights, and national security and form resolutions that combat these given issues,” he said.
The program has taken off in a short time, just two years.
After hearing about it from someone outside the school system and finding it interesting, McGeehan brought in Dan Ward, Social Studies & Education Media Services Director for Bayonne Public Schools, to develop a program. That resulted in an elective course and afterschool club.
Forty-four children are now involved, and the program continues to grow. Much of the excitement resulted from a visit to the actual United Nations in New York.
“The students learned about nations working together and understand what diplomacy is, and how important it is for countries to work together in the areas of health, education, economics and social focus,” McGeehan said.
For Safa Elzanfali, 16, a BHS junior, being involved with the program was about bringing the vast world a little closer to home.
“It’s really altered my perception about how I view international relations as a whole,” Elzanfali said. “Not only do I understand the U.S. policy on an issue, but also Cuba’s, Nicaragua’s and Russia’s. I’ve been able to experience an array of various conflicts that are being discussed at the U.N. today. It’s very topical.”
For Stephanie Toruno, also 16 and a junior, it was about that and more. She wanted to improve her communication skills; be able to speak in front of people and build her self-confidence. The program was an elixir for her.
“I now feel comfortable speaking in front of my classmates and competing against people I don’t know,” Toruno said. “It’s also taught me to be mindful that not everyone agrees with your opinion, and understanding that there will be differences.”
In a recent competition BHS students excelled and a trip to Yale University for another one could possibly be on the horizon. But that will take funding, and that was the reason for McGeehan’s donation.
“My contribution is to kickstart the financial program, to try to create a path for the students to go further with this program outside the classroom,” she said.
Her retirement did not make her interest in helping the students wane. “I’ve always felt it’s good to give back,” McGeehan said.
Bayonne’s club is noteworthy in that its composition differs greatly from the usual Model UN club, according to Wexler.
“Our Model UN club is unique in that 90 percent of it is girls, whereas other schools’ usually have 90 percent boys involved with the program,” he said.
Ward said he hopes to create a program in the grammar schools to work as a feeder program for the high school.