The son of medical missionaries, I lived in Ghana from birth until I left for college in the United States. Attending Ghana International School, with classmates from many different cultural, religious, and political backgrounds, left me with an enduring and inspiring vision of the diversity of people in the world.  I went into teaching because I wanted to help introduce young people to the world beyond our national borders and contribute to schools where students of different backgrounds learn side by side in classrooms and school yards.  A similar set of values about education permeated much of the discussion about our future that took place in the spring of 2016 in the context of Valley School’s Strategic Plan.

In our increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, the benefits of classrooms with children from diverse backgrounds are indisputable.  A diverse mix of classmates increases the likelihood that children will develop empathy, critical thinking, and conflict resolution skills. The things that we value at Valley, such as creativity, collaboration, and inclusiveness, are more likely to emerge and grow when children interact with other children with different perspectives and experiences.  Our ability to navigate nimbly across cultural and ideological lines forecasts our success both in the workplace and in our civic lives.  Diverse classrooms make children smarter and ensure that students will acquire the skills needed for life-long learning.  At The Valley School, our commitment to diversity and inclusivity is therefore grounded in our commitment to doing what’s in the best interests of children. 

And yet, we have significant work ahead to make this vision a reality.  The articulation of purpose and the alignment of resources and aspirations reflected in our Strategic Plan provide a roadmap into our future.  One essential step along the way is to define what we mean by diversity.  We define diversity broadly, thereby acknowledging that the differences that make a richer, more vibrant community reflect a multiplicity of human attributes. At Valley, these attributes include color, culture, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, family composition, learning styles, religion, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status.  As we move forward, this diversity of people needs to be experienced and seen at all levels – among students, parents, faculty, and members of the Board of Trustees. 

While the term “diversity” points to the people who make up our community, the term “inclusivity” points to the experience of belonging and the sense of emotional and social connection to the school.  In order to thrive in schools, children need to be recognized for who they are and to see themselves reflected both in their classmates and in the content of their learning.  To this end, much of our work in building a more diverse, inclusive Valley School community will focus on enhancing the day-to-day experiences, thereby increasing the engagement in learning of all children.

At the end of year one of our Strategic Plan, we can cite major accomplishments in this area:

  • We held our first dinner for parents of children of color, a well-attended gathering facilitated by Families of Color Seattle.
  • All faculty members participated in an in-service workshop on identity development in children and on micro-aggressions, led by Rosetta Lee, a national expert on anti-bias education who works at Seattle Girls School.
  • The Board of Trustees created a standing Diversity and Inclusivity Committee, including Board members, parents, teachers, and administrators, that will steer and coordinate all the school’s activities in these areas.
  • In the context of our first community survey, we gathered demographic data about the socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds of our families and received feedback about the sense of connection to the larger community, both for children and parents.
  • Teachers added new units to their curricula, particularly in social studies and the arts, with a greater focus on global education and the experiences of traditionally underrepresented groups in our society.
  • The Community Alliance of Parents launched a Parent Diversity Committee that will support the school’s efforts in building relationships within our community, in reaching out to prospective families, and in expanding the experiences our students have with performers, artists, and speakers from diverse backgrounds.
  • We expanded our book collections to better reflect the multicultural and family richness of our society and our world.
  • We increased our efforts to diversify the applicant pools for hiring new faculty members.
  • We increased representation within the Board of Trustees, adding people of color in leadership and membership roles.
  • The school has engaged Patrice Hollins, of Cultures Connecting, to facilitate diversity, equity, and inclusion training with Board members this fall and to support our ongoing work in building a more inclusive and welcoming community.

In the years ahead, we are committing to increasing the representation of students and families of color within The Valley School community.  At present, 20 percent of our students are children of color, and we aim to increase this percentage to 35 over the next four years. Strategies include improving both internal and external communication about the benefits of a Valley School education, connecting to local and community organizations engaged in the work of equity and inclusivity, and increasing Valley’s profile among diverse populations in Seattle.  We also aim to expand our socioeconomic diversity in upcoming years, by steadily increasing our financial aid budget allocation, currently at 13% of our operating budget.

Our aspirations in the areas of diversity and inclusivity are ambitious. Our success in building a diverse community of children, each with a strong, secure sense of self and connection, will determine our viability as a thriving elementary school. There are many conditions that indicate the strength and sustainability of a school – the quality of teachers and leaders, the clarity and consistency of purpose and mission, the integrity of financial management, to name a few – and yet each condition matters because it ensures that each child can grow confidently to become an active, engaged, creative member of our increasingly diverse society.