One of our most closely held beliefs at Ellis is the importance of being a diverse and inclusive community. We know this benefits our students’ growth, as they learn in the company of classmates who bring different life experiences and perspectives, and as they build all the skills that will prepare them to work effectively and collaboratively in the ever-broadening workplace they will enter as young adults. We also know it is not enough for us to be a diverse community—we strive to be a truly inclusive one, in which each student feels known, welcome, appreciated, and has a sense of belonging.
We’re proud of the steps we’ve taken as a community towards these goals, but we know there is always more work for us to do. One of the recent steps we have taken to help focus our efforts as effectively as possible has been to ask all our students in grades 7–12 to complete a survey designed to capture how inclusive the school actually feels to them. We used this brief anonymous, confidential survey in March 2020 and again this past April. The survey instrument has been used by other exemplary schools around the country, which have found it to be a very helpful tool for gathering information about how inclusive and welcoming a school community feels to its students.
The survey asks students to choose among groups of statements to indicate those that are most and least applicable to their school experience, with statements focusing on students’ sense of the climate for diversity, education process, personal experience, and conversations across differences.
In analyzing the results from last spring’s survey, we were excited to see that the overall measure of students’ sense of the school’s inclusivity has improved significantly since March 2020, with 45% of students giving overall scores in the highest range in 2022 as compared to 27% in 2020. Improvements were particularly noteworthy in the students’ perceptions of the educational process and personal experience, as well as several aspects of the climate for diversity (i.e. climate satisfaction, awareness and support of identities, awareness of privilege).
While it is wonderful to see improvements in our students’ sense of the school, we are always eager to continue to improve. The 2022 survey highlighted two dimensions of the school experience about which we want to focus additional attention this year. One is the students’ sense of how much kindness is expected and experienced between students. The second is students' sense of our ability as a school community to have constructive conversations across differences both inside and outside of class.
Our mission (to educate girls and young women to be bold, authentic, intellectually vibrant changemakers) calls on us to be a community in which all students are treated with respect and kindness and in which our students learn to connect in authentic and respectful ways with all kinds of classmates—those with whom they agree and those with whom they may disagree. It may well be that our Ellis students’ sense of the kindness of others and their ability to connect across differences reflects challenges they feel in the larger world today. But regardless of the cause, we will be focusing this year on both of these aspects of life at Ellis, using a mix of division-wide gatherings through which we can model these kinds of interactions, conversations in classrooms and advisories with smaller groups of students, and daily community-building strategies within our classrooms.
I shared these survey highlights with our students in grades 8–12 (those grades which took the survey last spring) last week, and I will be meeting in the coming weeks with our student leaders from those grades to hear their thoughts about additional steps we might take as a school.
Let me close by reminding all of us that we expect that this kind of work—striving to be a truly inclusive school community—to be ongoing. We are proud of the work and progress we have already experienced, and we look forward to continuing to keep this goal front and center for the foreseeable future.