The Ongoing Journey of Becoming an Inclusive School Community

I brought my oldest daughter, Gianna, to Ellis Spring Break Camp with me in 2016. At the time, I was a pre-kindergarten substitute teacher. I figured it would be a nice mother-daughter experience, no more, no less.
Gianna was an extremely shy 3-year-old who desired to take risks but was afraid to take the first step. At the start of camp, she found herself standing at the volcano apparatus on the playground. Those big brown eyes sent the signal that she wished to climb to the top, yet was fearful to try. Before I could encourage her to give it a go, I witnessed a large group of Ellis students surround her, some of the older students climbing to the top, reaching out to Gianna and chanting, “Come on, Gianna! You can do it! We won’t let you fall!” The support of her new Ellis family gave her the confidence and boost she needed to go for it, and she made it to the top! I knew right then and there that The Ellis School was the place for my daughters to attend school and grow into their fullest potential. 

What was it about that moment that solidified my decision to apply for my daughters to attend Ellis? First, the diversity of the students surrounding Gianna on the playground that day made me realize that Ellis would be a place where Gianna could be her most authentic self. I knew that at Ellis she would be surrounded by a diverse group of students who would enrich her life and lived experiences. Because not only did the students not give Gianna a hard time for being timid, they embraced her and gave her the support she needed to reach her goal. The way each student included Gianna and made her feel a sense of belonging sent a strong message to me that Ellis is an inclusive space. 

Now as I take on the role of Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Ellis, I have set clear expectations and goals towards ensuring that every student feels like they are seen, heard, known, and treated fairly, just like Gianna did on the playground that day. These expectations and goals were a collaborative effort written in partnership with our Head of School, Macon Finley, while listening to members of our school community as they’ve expressed their needs around our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. To support our ongoing journey, I am proud to share our new statement on diversity, equity, and inclusion:

The Ellis School community pursues, supports, and embraces diversity of all kinds, recognizing the collective strength derived from our individual differences. We are committed to creating a school environment in which all students feel welcome, known, heard, safe, and treated fairly, while establishing ourselves as a leader in equity and justice initiatives. 

  • We recognize and celebrate the unique value and dignity of every student.
  • We commit to doing the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion both internally and externally.
  • We foster authentic and reciprocal relationships with families.
  • We strive to teach a culturally sustaining curriculum and engage in culturally sustaining instructional practices.
In practice, these goals and expectations affect all members of the Ellis community. 

Students
Our students continue to discover the power of using their voices to cultivate change. Our affinity groups are going strong and our Student Diversity League (SDL) is preparing and planning our 17th annual Culture Jam event. Our keynote speaker will be the Second Lady of Pennsylvania, Gisele Fetterman. In November, SDL, with the collaboration of Ms. Dotson, Ms. Kilpela, and I, led a Calling In Workshop which was an opportunity for our non-Black students and teachers to engage in open dialogue about the powerful role that race plays in all of our lives and in our community. Together, students and teachers actively considered our shared responsibility in creating an inclusive and safe space for our Black classmates, students, and colleagues.

Families
Ellis continues to find ways to build community with families while honoring our health and safety protocols. The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and the Ellis Parent Association are partnering to deliver a virtual series that is focused on delivering programming with a DEI focus. The series was launched with a panel discussion, followed by three more virtual events that address DEI by division. 

Faculty
Faculty and staff recently attended a professional development session on cultural competency and culturally responsive teaching strategies to lay the groundwork for future DEI initiatives and training. I have begun the work of piloting a culturally sustaining coaching model with the third grade teaching team. 

Board of Trustees
The Board Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (BCDI) continues to play an integral role in our DEI efforts and initiatives. Macon Finley and I meet regularly with the BCDI to share the latest update on our goals and priorities. 

Alumnae
I continue to hear from and engage with alumnae. It is important for me to have conversations with alumnae about their Ellis experience, bring them up to speed on our latest DEI work, and discuss ways they can continue to be engaged in DEI efforts at Ellis. 

Every member of the Ellis community has a stake in this work. Each of us has a story about our own Ellis experience and it is my hope that your daughter’s story includes her feeling seen, heard, and known throughout our entire school community. Whether you chose Ellis for its academic rigor or its outstanding reputation for empowering girls, it is crucial that we all work together to ensure that Ellis is a place that celebrates and practices diversity, equity, and inclusion in every facet of the school experience.
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