During the 1996 – 97 school year, a small group of students approached Mr. Lassiter and asked him to advise a new club so they could attend the Model UN conference at Rutgers University. These students had been members of the first 8th grade class Mr. Lassiter taught at HPMS when he was hired in 1994. At the time, he was teaching a course called Area Studies and the middle school was simply classrooms in what is now the English wing of the high school. Mr. Lassiter was rewriting the curriculum for his course and he thought the Model UN conference, sponsored by the Institute for Domestic and International Affairs, might provide some ideas and strategies for the course. He agreed to attend the conference and after learning that HPHS was assigned to be Cuba, he purchased a rubber cigar and a green fatigue hat to encourage the 18 students from HP to get into the spirit of the role playing. The students really enjoyed the conference and developed an immediate friendly rivalry with East Brunswick High School who was the USA that year. The teachers at East Brunswick High School enjoyed the rivalry as well and provided many tips to Mr. Lassiter on how to expand and prepare students for the Model UN experience.
Highland Park High School won a few awards at its first conference and returned to RUMUN in its third year winning Best Delegation. The club continued to expand the number of conferences attended over the years under Mr. Lassiter and attended the National High School Model UN in New York City in 1999 where students represented the country of Burundi. While in NYC, these students shared lunch with an Burundian ambassador in order to get an inside perspective on how to represent the country accurately.The Model UN club also attended Rutgers Model Congress that year, and students from the high school began working with eighth graders in what came to be known as Eighth Grade Model UN(EGMUN). Mr. Lassiter’s 8th grade social studies course had been renamed Global Issues and used a role playing format for the year in which students developed their own fictional characters from around the world, debating world issues and creating sample UN resolutions in class. On one field trip to the US mission to the UN, eighth grade students cornered US mission workers on the issue of landmines, leaving them bewildered at the level of research and knowledge that 8th grade students demonstrated.The Global Issues course laid the groundwork for an ever increasing interest for students to be involved in the Model UN/Model Congress program in the high school and by the fourth year of its existence, 72 students attended the Model UN conference at Rutgers. With this level of student accomplishment at these competitive conferences and growing student interest, the Board of Education increased its support of the program and provided the club with an assistant advisor position and funding to offset the costs so that any student could afford to be involved in the program. Mr. Lassiter would step down from his position as advisor, handing the baton to Mr. Mladnick.
When Mr. Mladnick took the helm in the fall of 2006, he benefited from the mentorship of Mr. Lassiter and the strong leadership of veteran members of the club. After participating in the RUMUN and RMC conferences each year, the club decided to try the PhilMUN conference in the winter of 2009. The delegates from Highland Park thoroughly enjoyed the conference, and they rode home with a Best Delegation award. The club decided to participate in PhilMUN again in 2010, but they were sadly unable to travel due to a snowstorm. To fill the void that was felt after the missed conference, the team quickly prepared for RMC. Mr. Mladnick and Ms. Wilson (who joined us that year) were very proud of how the team rallied after their setback and managed to perform so well despite limited preparation time.
Even though the team did very well at conferences (winning many individual and team awards), Mr. Mladnick & Ms. Wilson consistently maintained that awards were unimportant. Rather, the team remained focused on personal growth, collaboration, and integrity. Before each conference, delegates were reminded that they should forget about awards and concentrate their energy on immersing themselves in the experience of the conference while representing Highland Park with class. This was manifested when Ms. Wilson found a generous tip and a note in one of the female rooms while doing final room checks at the end of a conference. The note, which was intended for the housekeeping staff, read, “Thank you for everything that you do. We know that you work very hard, and this conference would not be possible without you.” That–more than any award–showed that our delegates were truly global citizens.
After working with Ms. Wilson for three years and with Mr. Gold volunteering with the team for a year, Mr. Mladnick confidently passed the baton to Mr. Gold and Ms. Wilson–knowing that they would open new doors for the club.