“The Elisabeth Morrow School values the rich dimensions of diversity embodied within each member of our community. We understand that each person is unique, with a distinct individuality that encompasses (in alphabetical order) age, gender, physical abilities, political view-points, race and ethnicity, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status. Diversity in an educational environment must move beyond simple tolerance; it is among our highest priorities to provide a safe, positive, and nurturing environment in which to appreciate and understand difference.”
-The Elisabeth Morrow School Board of Trustees
Through community-wide participation, EMS strives to foster a diverse, equitable, and inclusive learning environment where everyone feels welcomed and celebrated.
Our approach to Diversity, Equity, Inclusivity, and Belonging is both experiential and ongoing. To sustain our community’s commitment, we continue to ask and reflect on the following:
- What differences do we observe, acknowledge, and value?
- How can we make certain that all aspects of the EMS experience are equally accessible, from the Early Childhood program through eighth grade?
- What systems and practices must we consistently revisit to ensure that our approach to inclusivity is proactive?
We consistently revisit systems and practices to ensure that our approach to inclusivity is proactive.
We gauge our impact around DEIB efforts through community surveys, family “roundtables” conducted with support from the Parents Association, participation in both optional and mandatory cultural competency programming, and continuing professional development.
An example of this is our participation in the 2020 NAIS Assessment of Inclusivity and Multiculturalism, through which we examined our school’s climate around equity and inclusion and arrived at the following priority: To recruit, retain, and support employees and Trustees of the highest quality by recognizing the value of diversity. One way in which we do this is through the Rooney Rule — our job descriptions explicitly state that we desire diversity, and search firms understand that EMS seeks diverse candidates.
An inclusive curriculum incorporating global perspectives
At EMS, our students learn through leadership and are eager to support initiatives they value. At all ages, students are encouraged to share their cultural traditions and celebrations with classmates, and they actively participate in peer-to-peer and teacher-led DEIB education initiatives. They also contribute during school-wide events; for example, our fourth-graders led a school-wide assembly focused on disability awareness. By the time students reach the middle-school years (Grades 5–8), they are able to further expand their DEIB participation through student-led groups (such as the Gay-Straight Alliance or GSA) and curricular choices focused on diversity, as well as a required Cultural Competency course.
To provide students a space in the classroom to explore their identities in more depth, we offer electives such as Diversity of Identity for students in Morrow House (Grades 5–8). For eighth-graders, the electives have a community outreach component. In previous years, our older students went to our early childhood classes and read books with female and gender-nonconforming protagonists.
As part of our strategic plan, we have developed a global music initiative. We already have a robust music department, and music instruction reaches all students. Beginning in third grade, every student learns to play an instrument, and small group lessons are held several times weekly. Our orchestras perform classical and modern music and have opened for performers such as Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman. Our music department looks for sources from non-European origins to play at our biannual concerts and is expanding the traditional selection of instruments played to include African drums and the didgeridoo.
Professional development and a diverse faculty
Diversity, equity, inclusivity, and belonging are incorporated into teaching and learning across subject areas, developmental stages, and divisions at EMS. We strive to maintain an inclusive curriculum in which all students can see themselves and offer programs and resources in support of developing global perspectives. Our faculty and staff continually challenge themselves, fellow educators, and our students to reflect on and evaluate their understanding of DEIB and the impact they have as individuals, teachers, and community members.
Faculty teams participate in professional development programs led by our Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusivity, and Belonging, and attend outside workshops, presentations, and national conferences. Each year, faculty and staff attend the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference, the Widening the Lens Conference, the New York State Association of Independent School Diversity Conference, NYSAIS Job Fair to Promote Diversity, NJAIS Job Fair to Promote Diversity, CARLE Institute for White Educators, and more. Conference attendees bring new insight and information back to EMS to share with the task force.
In 2013, as part of the effort to recruit and support an increasingly diverse faculty, we established the Equity & Justice Task Force. Representatives from across the school gather monthly to discuss DEIB issues, field ideas for programming, and support faculty members of color. The task force also develops quarterly in-house professional development workshops. Students are involved in the planning and execution of at least one workshop per school year. Previous events have included a student panel that discussed personal experiences with DEIB and a presentation on inclusive language.
Community-wide understanding of the value of diversity
We are proud to be one of the most diverse independent schools in the country and continually strive to ensure that all families feel welcomed at EMS from the moment they connect with our Admissions office. We embrace the diversity of our community and offer educational, celebratory, and social opportunities for families to broaden their positive understanding of diversity and the value it brings to children’s education.
Our Parents Association, which includes every parent and caregiver within the EMS community, is a partner in our DEIB efforts. Their Diversity, Equity & Inclusion committee, created in 2016, hosts educational events throughout the year, and the International Food Festival that the Parents Association hosts is open to the entire community (health and safety precautions permitting) and is one of our largest EMS celebrations of cultural diversity.
EMS alumni have participated in community discussions regarding DEIB and are active participants in engaging prospective applicants from diverse communities. Alumni support of financial aid enables EMS to support more students from various socioeconomic backgrounds to attend.
Phoebe Search, Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusivity, and Belonging (DEIB)
Phoebe Search has been a member of the larger independent school community in New York City for the last 23 years, working as a classroom teacher and DEIB practitioner since the beginning of her career.
Upon receiving her master’s degree in education from Bank Street College and an M.Ed. in Private School Leadership from the Klingenstein Institute at Teachers College, Columbia University, Search committed to a life of service for all students and families, many of whom are navigating the world of private schools for the first time.
Search has been an educator at EMS since the fall of 2016, coinciding with her twin sons’ Kindergarten year in Chilton House. Since that time, she has been a member of the Morrow House Orchestra, an advisor for the Diversity of Identity Elective and the Gay-Straight Alliance, and last year, served as a remote third- and fourth-grade teacher in Little School.
Search and her family are thrilled to be devoted members of the EMS community.