programming such as the Ellis Entrepreneurs elective where girls prototype, create, and market their own products. For the upcoming academic year, the course will focus on teaching students what it takes to build a business from the ground up. Middle School girls will connect with Project Olympus housed in the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) to learn the ins and outs of entrepreneurship while utilizing resources from CMU’s Olympus Center to better craft and market their final designs.
All of these examples culminate in Ellis faculty pushing the boundaries of girls’ education by continuing to create innovative programs that prepare girls for a future that is ever-changing. A result of this approach is that Ellis girls are engaged with their learning at a deeper
level. In the company of other genuinely curious students, and guided by committed teachers, Ellis girls are thriving in our forward-thinking, progressive academic environment. They are academically uninhibited, delighted by learning, and equipped with all of the skills necessary to be successful, independent learners.
EMBRACING AUTHENTICITY AND FOSTERING SOCIAL ACTION
While reimagining the academic program is enough work to keep a school busy in any given year, the Ellis community did not stop there this year. One of the ways in which schools have the ability to induce change is through equity, inclusion, and diversity initiatives, and Ellis is at the forefront of this work in the Pittsburgh region.
It starts with challenging what it means to be a girl and what it means to be an Ellis girl in particular. In classrooms from pre-kindergarten to grade 12, you can witness teachers modeling and reinforcing the message that there is no such thing as a typical Ellis girl because there is no one way to be a girl. By committing to pursue, support, and embrace diversity of all kinds, recognizing the collective strength derived from individual differences, Ellis girls can be themselves. Quirkiness and individuality are valued, girls are not expected to fit into a box, and a warm, welcoming, and inclusive community is established across campus.
By grounding students’ education around self acceptance and identity at a young age and then introducing experiences and programs that challenge them to accept the authentic identities of their peers, faculty lay the foundation for students to be comfortable and confident participating in culturally responsive learning opportunities. As they develop their understanding of cultures that are different than their own, students develop their own opinions about what is just in the world and how to take social action when they see injustice.
Affinity groups—which bring together students who have something important in common, e.g., race, gender, religion, or special interests—support ongoing identity development and are available to students at Ellis starting in grade 5. Affinity groups provide a safe environment in
which girls who share a specific identity can come together for building community, empowerment, and positive self-awareness. In Middle School, affinity groups include the Asian Student Union, Middle School Alliance Group, Multicultural Club, and Sisterhood Junior. In Upper School, affinity groups are student-run and include: Asian Student Union, Black Student Union, Feminist Student Union, Gender Sexuality Alliance, Jewish Student Union, Latin Cultural Union, Multicultural Union, and Muslim Cultural Union.
The Families of Students of Color affinity group also gathered regularly this school year. The group, now in its second year, aims to facilitate ongoing small-group discussions and to solicit feedback from parents and guardians of students of color that is used to inform future initiatives, programming, and planning at Ellis. The group gathers periodically for topic discussions, research exploration, parent networking, and needs identification relevant to the group’s focus.
Middle School English Teacher Gina Kilpela and Director of Equity and Inclusion Ciera Young have also reimagined the faculty-led Ellisians for an Inclusive Community (EFIC) group where faculty and staff gather to engage in dialogue about diversity, equity, and inclusion at Ellis. To reinvigorate this long-standing Ellis group, Ms. Kilpela and Ms. Young shared with the faculty various articles to read throughout the year and then provided the opportunity and space to come together to share insights and discuss how the articles and relevant research could be applied at Ellis. Persistent professional development equips faculty and staff with the awareness, reflection, vocabulary, and bravery that it takes to ensure that Ellis is a welcoming and inclusive learning environment for all members of the community.
Many of the conversations held by EFIC focus on access, opportunity, culturally responsive instruction, and advancement for all students while striving to identify and eliminate barriers that prevent full participation. Ms. Kilpela says, “EFIC work is about creating time and space for faculty and staff to dialogue—to speak up, listen, and reflect.” The group also focuses on creating environments in which individuals or groups feel welcomed, respected, and valued enough to participate fully on campus.
Research shows that diverse groups are more successful and innovative than homogeneous groups and force members to think creatively and critically and better anticipate and incorporate alternative viewpoints. Many examples of this can be seen playing out among Ellis girls both on and off campus this year. By empowering students to embrace their full identities and the identities of their peers, and learning how to use their voices not only on behalf of themselves, but on behalf of those who are marginalized, an Ellis education fosters girls who are prepared to take action.
Ellis girls spoke up and took action in support of empowerment, equality, and inclusion in a variety of ways this year. From participating in Ellis’ first-ever Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Celebration and Service to open forums about the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh hearings and #MeToo movement, from planning and hosting the fifteenth annual Culture Jam student diversity conference to attending and then educating Ellis community members about their experiences at the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC), Ellis girls are taking an active role in important conversations and implementing efforts to affect change in ways that are meaningful to them and their communities.
WHAT’S NEXT ON THE HORIZON?
The administration, faculty, and staff of Ellis are more dedicated than ever to growing girls who are genuinely curious, intellectually ambitious changemakers—the kind of young women who are committed to making the world a better place for themselves and others. Changes in place for the 2019–2020 school year and beyond serve this vision moving forward, and, at their core, are designed to instill the confidence, empathy, and skills girls need to reach for their goals without inhibition.
While you can always count on a few constants—a steely resolve that “snack” is the most important meal of the day, celebratory pounding on the backs of auditorium benches as a sign of support, and a fierce competitive spirit whether you find yourself at WPIAL championships, science competitions, or even the ever benevolent Green and White games—the only other constant at Ellis is change. From updates to the curriculum or revamped daily experiences, at Ellis, spaces, activites, and programs are continually being reevaluated, renovated, and revised in order to best serve girls.
By implementing meaningful, sustainable changes in a purposeful, intentional manner, Ellis will continue to prepare girls for challenges and opportunities that don’t even exist yet. Guided by our goal of developing confident, resilient young women who are empowered to lead lives of purpose, Ellis will continue to evolve, while staying true to its roots of being a place where girls delight in learning, take risks, test hypotheses, and become courageous and independent—leaving campus ready to be brave, bold changemakers in the larger world.