Cascades Academy Independent School PK-12
Why Schools Must Prioritize Diversity & Inclusion
Why Schools Must Prioritize Diversity & Inclusion

Diversity & Inclusion: Why They are Mission Critical

There are countless research studies that prove the many benefits and tangible outcomes of diverse and inclusive organizations. One article that we recently discussed in our Diversity and Inclusion Professional Learning Community (PLC) was this one from Scientific American. You can read the full article here, but the main conclusions were that diverse environments make us smarter, make us work harder, and make us more innovative - all critical components to the mission and core values of Cascades Academy!

The school first began exploring its commitment to diversity as part of our Northwest Association of Independent Schools (NWAIS) accreditation process in 2013 through some simple questions:

  • How do we define diversity at Cascades Academy?
  • How do we go about fulfilling and assessing our commitment to diversity?
  • How can we cultivate 'socially responsible citizens ready for a diverse and changing world' as articulated in the school's mission statement within Central Oregon that is not ethnically diverse?

As we began to reflect on our current diversity practices, it was clear that we needed a guiding framework for our work. We wanted to define diversity much more broadly than simple ethnic or racial diversity, and these conversations led to the creation and adoption of the school's diversity statement in 2014 as follows:

Cascades Academy seeks to create a safe, nurturing community where each member honors his or her unique self, embraces the diverse perspectives and backgrounds of others, and promotes social responsibility both within the school and beyond.

The entire faculty and staff participated in the creation of this statement which set out to articulate the school's major commitments moving forward. We wanted to move beyond celebrating diversity by having cultural days or honoring diverse holiday traditions. Instead, we wanted to move in the direction of the major themes of this diversity statement becoming part of the cultural fabric of our school community - how we interact with one another, how we honor our unique selves, and how our students develop both the mindsets and skillsets to embrace and promote diversity and inclusion when they leave our school community.

It was early on in our journey that it became increasingly clear that our diversity work must also be expanded to incorporate inclusion work as well. As one diversity practitioner shared with us, "If you invite a diverse group to a dance, but no one actually asks them to dance once they are there, you aren't yet successful."

And so, as we navigate these important topics on both a local and national level, I felt it timely to highlight some of the important work we are doing in our school community.

What Are We Doing?

  • Steadfast commitment to financial aid program to promote socioeconomic diversity: 38% of CACO families receive financial aid, well above the NWAIS average of 15%
  • Actively recruiting students of diverse backgrounds to join our CACO community
  • Sending groups of MS and US students to the NWAIS Diversity and Leadership training in Seattle since 2015
  • Investing in professional development training for faculty, staff, and Board of Trustees on such topics as unconscious bias and gender identity
  • Launching Diversity and Inclusion Professional Learning Community
  • Promoting multicultural competency through selections of ethnic, cultural, religious, and historical curriculum offerings
  • Using the school's experiential model to create opportunities for our students to interact with diverse populations through our service learning and traveling school programs
  • Intentionally cultivating an inclusive and caring school culture
  • Outreach to local community organizations such as the Latino Community Association

How Can You Help?

  • If you know of diverse community members who would make great staff or board members, send them our way.
  • Encourage your friends to apply to Cascades Academy even if they think affording Cascades Academy is out of their reach. We never want that to be the reason they don't consider the school.
  • If you have interest in getting involved in these conversations or have connections to resources you think would be helpful to our school community, let me know.
  • Consider supporting a scholarship for a student of a minority or disadvantaged background.
  • Share with your network of friends that we are prioritizing this important work.

What Happens Next?

We have only recently embarked on work in these areas, and like any journey, there will be faster stretches, worthwhile distractions, and occasional bumps in the road. There will be days that students feel excluded despite our best efforts to create a culture that promotes inclusion. There will be many new points of interest and potential paths forward as we discover the possibility of this work. We will ponder how we can engage our parent community in these conversations. We will ponder how we can be thought leaders not only within our school community but in our greater Central Oregon community as well. We will have difficult conversations and inspirational ones. But, we will be guided by our diversity statement, and I am confident that we will discover amazing things along the way that will impact our students and our school for years to come.

-Julie Amberg, Head of School

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