Embracing an Inclusive and Challenging Curriculum - KIPP Chicago Public Schools

The Whole Child Review Issue No. 10, October 2022

Download PDF Version

Embracing an Inclusive and Challenging Curriculum

Molly Harris on taking Model UN to new heights 

Molly Harris, former 6th grade Social Studies teacher and Department Chair at KIPP Academy Chicago, current graduate student, and KIPP Chicago UN leader.

What inspired you to lead Model UN? 

I was inspired to lead Model United Nations from my experience participating in the club for four years in high school. I loved the bonds I made with other like-minded students who were also passionate about making a difference in our world. When I went to college at the University of Michigan, my experience through Model UN made me feel comfortable and confident speaking up in my classes. I was not intimidated to ask a question or participate in a 150-person lecture because I had spoken in front of that many people before at high school Model UN conferences. I knew that if I wanted to truly prepare my students for leadership opportunities in high school and college, Model UN would be one of the best ways to do so.

What were you looking to accomplish?

When I began teaching in New Orleans eight years ago, I quickly realized that Model UN was something my students would love and greatly benefit from. They loved sharing their perspectives on issues in their community and were passionate about finding ways to solve these problems. In addition, I wanted to provide my students with an opportunity to gain public speaking and research skills so that when they went to high school and college, they felt prepared and confident to share their voices and opinions. My students must know and believe in the power of their voices and the value of their unique perspectives. 

Can you tell us a little about the process for participating students? 

Every 6th-8th grade student is welcome to try out for Model UN in September. Tryouts are competitive since only 20 students are selected to make the team each year. This is our 5th year running the program at KIPP Academy Chicago, and we had the largest turnout, with over 80 students trying out! For the first year of tryouts at KIPP One, over 40 students tried out for the team.

Once the teams are solidified, for the first few months, students meet after school to share current events and “hot seat” or mini-debate exercises. Later in the year, our team is assigned a country to represent at the International Model UN Conference that we will attend in March. Students research topics they are passionate about, such as improving global literacy rates, mental health support for youth, or nuclear disarmament. Students work in pairs to explore this topic from the perspective of our assigned country to discover different problems within their topic and potential solution ideas. They use this research to write their Position Papers. Their Position Paper is a two-page research paper in which they will share their country’s perspective on their assigned topic. For the months leading up to the conference, students submit this paper and then prepare their speeches that they will present in New York. 

What impact does participation in Model UN have on students? Did you meet your intended outcomes last spring/summer? 

Students develop strong public speaking, writing, research, and leadership skills throughout the Model UN program. In addition, they build lasting relationships with their teammates and learn to give and receive feedback. Model UN alums often visit team meetings or tryouts to advise newer members. Every year, I see 7th and 8th-grade students step up as mentors and step into becoming the best versions of themselves. 

At the conference, students gain confidence, poise, and the ability to articulate their research in rooms filled with over 100 students. They learn to navigate and network with other delegates and build friendships that last far beyond the conference days. In addition, they will visit the United Nations Headquarters in New York and witness where our world’s most complex problems are discussed and resolved.

Due to COVID-19, KIPP Academy Chicago and KIPP Bloom participated in the International Model UN Conference over Zoom at our Children’s Museum of Art of Social Justice  last year. We had four students from KIPP Academy and five from KIPP Bloom win their committees. We also hosted our first-ever family banquet, where Model UN students presented their speeches to their families. It was an unforgettable night. I have already heard from three alums who plan to do Model UN at their respective high schools.

Are you looking to continue/expand this work? If so, what is to come this year?  

I plan to continue this work and hope to expand the program further. This year, the Model UN program is implemented at three KIPP campuses: KIPP Academy, KIPP One, and KIPP Bloom College Prep. I am coaching teachers at KIPP One and KIPP Bloom and co-leading the program at KIPP Academy. In addition, we all plan to attend the International Model UN conference in New York City in the Spring as one KIPP Chicago delegation. We are very excited.


S.P.I.T. (Spellbinding Performers In Training)
KIPP Chicago McNair Fellow & Assistant Principal, Heather Hawkins 

What inspired you to do this project? What were you looking to accomplish?

Institutional racism and lack of representation in schools often keep BIPOC students from experiencing the sense of belonging and recognition that leads to academic success. Addressing this inequity takes more than surface-level changes, such as hiring selection. We must commit to diversity and inclusion on a deep, ongoing level. Representation for the sake of representation alone does not allow for exploring the varying nuances and differences within the diaspora. Therefore, KIPP Ascend Middle School implemented a project-based spoken word curriculum that will explore different viewpoints of BIPOC poets and orators throughout time.  

What impact did this project have on students? Did you meet your intended outcomes? 

By partnering with Reconstruction, KAMS students’ academic gains in writing were further supported by deepening students’ current level of cultural representation.

SPIT (Spellbinding Performers In Training) classes delved into Black triumph and tribulation through spoken word poetry, theater, and speeches of Black orators worldwide. Students also wrote and performed original works.

Are you looking to continue/expand this work? If so, what is to come this year? 

Absolutely. KAMS has plans to partner with Reconstruction for the 22-23 school year. We hope to enrich our Literacy Centers and Social Studies courses by incorporating a culturally relevant, writing-intensive curriculum.

As a Mcnair Fellow, how do you connect this work to your professional growth goals and expanded impact as a KIPP Chicago leader? 

As an educator and McNair Fellow, I actively challenge the [academic] achievement gap. Many students complete middle school without attaining proficiency in writing. Assessments used to measure these outcomes further reveal serious equity issues. African Americans, children living in poverty, and English learners score far below their peers in both writing and social studies. There are many causes of the achievement gap; systemic racism, lack of acculturation, socioeconomic status, sexism, and availability of technology are all factors. The root cause becomes even more complex when these factors intersect. Working to close the achievement gap allows current and future students a greater opportunity to access the benefits of a middle-class lifestyle most disproportionately afforded to white Americans.

Browse by priority: