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When the Best-Laid Plans Go Sideways
Posted 01/09/2018 03:02PM

Model UN at SJPWhat happens when a school event seven months in the making gets cancelled?

If you’re a well-oiled machine that empowers students to regroup with the support of teachers and administrators, then adaptation and resilience become the rule rather than the exception. A perfect example of this dynamic within the Prep community is the recent postponement and rescheduling of the 12th annual St. John’s Prep Model U.N. Conference.

On Saturday, December 9, more than 700 delegates from nearly 50 schools across New England were scheduled to attend the event, forming committees to address each of 16 separate global issues. Elaborate briefing papers crafted throughout last summer by members of the Prep’s Model U.N. Club (MUN) were to form the basis of committee discussion. But in an early harbinger of what’s turning out to be a brutal winter, wind-blown snow was predicted to descend on the region beginning on the evening of December 8.

Throughout that Friday morning, schools began declining their invitations to SJPMUN XII due to the iffy weather forecast. By early afternoon, the partnership within and among key constituencies of the Prep community had kicked into gear. Assistant Principal for Student Life Wendy Olson called an emergency meeting with MUN membership. What ensued was a calm and measured dialogue primarily driven by student input.

“We all brainstormed a variety of ways that we could make the conference work with an impending snow storm, but we kept coming back to wanting this to be a great experience for everyone,” recalls Mrs. Olson. “The students concluded relatively quickly that having some schools miss out due to the storm and either shortening the schedule or removing speakers and programs would not be our best option. Our MUN team is well traveled and have attended many conferences. They know what they want the student experience to be, and that trying to run a conference overshadowed by hazardous travel conditions, cancelled programs, etc. was not going to provide that experience.”

MUN team Secretary General Chris Jerrett ’18 picks up the story from there.

“When we all got together and considered all the alternatives, we knew we had to cancel,” he says. “The first thing we did was make sure we reached out to all the moderators at other schools to inform them. After many months of hard work, postponing the conference was a huge disappointment, but I think that after working together as a team, we were eager to prepare for the conference a second time together. We are hopeful that we can take advantage of the new timeframe to get the most out of work we previously completed and make the event run even more smoothly.”

Choosing a date to reschedule was equally challenging. The original, December 9 date conflicted with no school sporting events an no competing conferences. But the team, the student life office and club moderator Mrs. Pamela Bronder-Giroux persevered and played the hand they were dealt, eventually settling on March 17, 2018.

“It’s not ideal, because it does conflict with a MUN conference at Boston College, as well as with spring break for some private schools, but it was the best date available,” says Jerrett. “We have already heard that some schools won’t be able to attend, but we intend on leaving a legacy for the club with this event and we’re hoping to recruit new schools to achieve the same numbers we had coming back in December.”

For her part, Mrs. Bronder-Giroux, just like her team, is focused on upside.

“In every conference, certain planners get overworked, and don't have time to properly pull in an underclassman to shadow them and learn the job for next year,” she explains. “This reschedule gives us a chance to do that better. Also, the new conference date falls on the the weekend between winter and spring sports seasons here at the Prep, so we can offer the MUN experience to more St. John’s students who might be able to try it out, especially underclassmen. Our students put in an astronomical amount of work writing their briefing papers—they are very motivated to make this happen.”

One of the hallmarks of a Xaverian education is a powerful emphasis on the development of relationships rooted in respect and kindness. The first step every student takes onto this campus animates a partnership—amongst the students themselves and between students and adults. The positive and productive outcome to what could have been a wholly disheartening experience vis-a-vis the Model U.N. club is an excellent illustration of this partnership in action.

“I was more than impressed with the way the students handled this disruption,” says Mrs. Olson. “Model U.N. isn’t just a club. It’s a forum in which students learn about leadership and about taking any situation they may find themselves in and influencing for the benefit of others.”

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