Equity & Inclusion Programming at Ellis

At The Ellis School, we acknowledge the complexity of diverse life experiences and openly engage in teaching about equity and building inclusivity within our community. We believe our community is stronger, and our girls’ learning is richer, by having a diverse and inclusive school community.  With the goal of preparing every girl for the diverse world in which we live, our belief is that through shared and meaningful experiences we recognize the collective strength derived from our individual differences.
The Lower School program addresses history, heritage, culture, and social justice issues. The Middle School program includes projects such as The Civil Rights Movement and classes focused on social justice, law, and human rights. And the Upper School program delves deeply into topics of diversity through electives like Gender and Power, mini-courses, and senior projects that allow for girls to explore issues of personal, cultural, and political significance.

For the 2017–2018 school year, Ellis faculty are spearheading efforts to incorporate diversity, inclusion, and equity programming into each division’s curriculum. Through these learning and engagement opportunities, Ellis empowers students from pre-kindergarten to grade 12 to engage in civil and respectful discourse, tackle controversial issues with sensitivity, and accept each other’s differences while embracing similarities.


Lower School
Throughout the year, the Lower School will discuss and honor different cultures and identities through community read alongs and hands-on activities. Students will celebrate their differences and similarities through lessons on family structure, various cultures, gender and sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status via age-appropriate books. Ellis girls will develop pride in their own unique identity through literary characters and stories, while garnering a meaningful appreciation for each other and themselves.  

Middle School
Grade 7 will participate in civil discourse and cultural humility training to address privilege—on an institutional and on an individual level. Through conversations on disparity, race, and socioeconomic status, students will learn the vocabulary they need to have meaningful and respectful discussions on a range of issues. They will also complete an urban redevelopment unit on Homewood to learn more about the neighborhood and what it means to respectfully enter, learn from, and give back to different communities while establishing meaningful connections. Middle School students have also formed a diversity alliance group and an affinity group for self-identifying black students to further dialogue about race, heritage, and culture.

Upper School
The grade 10 Culture in Context class will delve into the correlation between visual art, culture, and values, and visit Pittsburgh neighborhoods to view a variety of public art and discuss its meaning. Students will ultimately create and install artwork in public spaces at Ellis that reflect their learnings from the Culture in Context course. Upper School students also participate in equity and inclusion-based clubs including Student Diversity League, Sisterhood, Little Asia Club, Latina Affinity Group, Gay Straight Alliance, and the Jewish Student Union.

Performing Arts

The grade 8 operetta and the Upper School musical casts will discuss play-specific diversity, equity, and inclusion matters as they refine their theatrical performances. The grade 8 operetta, Once on This Island Jr., is set in Haiti and students discussed cultural appropriation and how to respectfully portray a culture that was not their own. While refining their performance of the Upper School musical, Chicago, students will have more advanced discussions on intersectional feminism and gender-based violence. Workshops will be held for cast members to encourage ongoing constructive dialogue about these topics.


Heritage Day - October 12, 2017
Heritage Day, Ellis’ annual celebration of diversity where Ellis families sharing ethnic traditions and foods with Ellis community members, encouraged students in every grade to explore different countries through traditional food, dress, and music.

YWCA Racial Justice Awards - November 8, 2017
Representatives from Ellis’ Student Diversity League and other Ellis affinity groups attended the YWCA Racial Justice Awards on November 8. The event honored people and organizations who have demonstrated a significant commitment to fighting racial injustice and promoting inclusion in Pittsburgh.

Culture Jam: Building Bridges - November 17, 2017
Ellis’ annual student-led diversity conference organized by the Student Diversity Club will feature keynote speakers and student-facilitated workshops focusing on topics relating to this year’s theme, Building Bridges. From race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, ability, age, and socioeconomic status, Ellis students and students from across the region will come together for a day of inclusive, constructive, and respectful conversations. New to Culture Jam this year are mindfulness spaces, yoga sessions, adult workshops, and workshops led by students outside of Ellis.

NAIS People of Color Conference - November 30–December 2, 2017
Ellis faculty members will travel to Anaheim, California, for the annual National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) People of Color Conference: “Voices for Equity and Justice Now and in Every Generation: Lead, Learn, Rededicate, and Deliver”. The conference will provide educators with a safe space to discuss equity, race, and justice in schools and offers professional development networking. Ellis faculty will be heading to Anaheim with a focus on how they can provide better emotional support to Ellis students.

NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference - November 30–December 2, 2017
The Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC), held at the same time as the NAIS People of Color Conference, is held annually for Upper School student leaders committed to building community and forming allies. This year, Ellis will send four Upper School students to attend for the first time. Students will meet with peers and adult facilitators to learn cross-cultural communication skills and strategies.

Independent School Social Justice Summit - Year-round
Equity and Inclusion practitioners from The Ellis School, Shady Side Academy, Sewickley Academy, and Winchester Thurston are teaming up to discuss ways faculty, staff, and students can work together as independent schools to fight injustice. The independent school partnership kicks off with Ellis’ Culture Jam in November and continues with a Martin Luther King Jr. Day seminar at Winchester Thurston in January, and a summit hosted by Sewickley Academy in February. The summit will ensure that there are continuous, collaborative conversations about social justice issues throughout the year.

Lower School Parent Coffee - December 6, 2017
The Lower School will host a coffee for parents on ways to discuss race with their children. Ellis librarians will be in attendance to inform parents about helpful books and take suggestions from families on new selections. Ellis parent, Shannon B. Wanless Ph.D., from the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, will also be on hand to discuss race-related and social-emotional teaching practices.

Ellis & Westinghouse Partnership Podcast - Year-round
Ellis Upper School students will partner with Westinghouse Academy’s Men of Excellence to create and edit an original podcast. The podcast will feature commentary and constructive conversations from students on stereotypes, education, diversity, and identity in the city of Pittsburgh.

Stand Against Racism - Spring 2018
Upper School students will pledge to Stand Against Racism this spring in support of the signature YWCA campaign which raises awareness about the impact of racism and builds community among those who work for racial justice.

Mini-courses - May 2018
Ellis will offer multiple mini-courses in the spring relating to equity and inclusion programming, including a student-favorite from last year, Intersectional Feminism. There are also plans to partner with United Way on a service-learning mini-course.

Beginning equity & inclusion programming with our youngest learners and continuing education through the Middle and Upper School divisions equips students with the language, knowledge, and empathy needed to have constructive dialogue on race, religion, gender, socioeconomic status, privilege, and sexuality. As an inclusive community, The Ellis School is committed to pursuing, supporting, and embracing diversity of all kinds.