Diversity and Global Learning
The mission of our school explicitly expresses Holy Child's dedication to welcoming "students and families of different faiths and diverse backgrounds," while valuing "the uniqueness of each individual." In an effort to create a more diverse and inclusive community that appreciates and supports all, Holy Child identified the need for a Cultural Diversity Coordinator to spearhead multiple initiatives within our community and beyond. This school year, Katia Vargas, former member of the Admissions Department and mother of Sofia ('16) and Vivi Alpizar ('18), became the first Holy Child Cultural Diversity Coordinator and quickly immersed herself into her new role, which includes leading students, faculty, and staff in diversity and equality related issues and expanding Holy Child's global learning opportunities.
Ms. Vargas hit the ground running in her new position by forming a Teacher Diversity Committee, a group of 17 faculty and staff that meet monthly to discuss general school topics and support our diversity mission. During their meetings, the committee discerns a multitude of topics specific to Holy Child, including ways to become an ally for culturally diverse students, opportunities to improve the social environment for our diverse students, and strategies to speak up in the moment when faced with diversity challenges. Ms. Vargas has also led the charge in finding great opportunities in Professional Development for the faculty and staff to take part of, one being an afternoon with Rodney Glasgow, President of the Glasgow Group, LLC, a consultancy agency that provides diversity training, among other things, to schools. During the Diversity Professional Development afternoon, Glasgow led the faculty and staff in understanding the current Holy Child culture and climate and in exploring the future of Holy Child regarding various cultural indicators, including race, religion, gender, ability, and socio-economic status. Keeping in mind the Mission and Goals of Holy Child, the adult members of the community considered the most pressing issues the students of Holy Child face in regards to diversity and began discussing ways the community can support these issues.
Most importantly, Ms. Vargas constantly includes the students in her work encouraging them to develop and lead student activities, act as role models for their peers, and experience global learning beyond the walls of Holy Child. Consisting of over 30 students, the Holy Child Diversity Club, founded by Ms. Vargas, focuses on promoting awareness on the different diversity identifiers such as race, ethnicity, gender, age, etc., and creates dynamic cultural activities for the entire student body. They consistently conduct informative and interactive presentations with topics ranging from Chinese New Year to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Their most popular experiences at Holy Child included a Mardi Gras Celebration, a round table discussion about "Breaking Down Stereotypes," and an African American Leaders and Cultural Intelligence talk led by Dr. Leona Ba. Dr. Ba, a former Holy Child parent, is an organizational development and evaluation consultant. She has extensive experience as an evaluation practitioner in a wide variety of cultural contexts and integrates cultural responsiveness throughout her work.
Ms. Vargas learned the Holy Child community represents 33 countries, so she reached out to parents and students to create an international experience for the school. In April, Holy Child students, faculty, and staff tasted food from across the globe, danced to music from a variety of countries, and toured the world during International Week – a week of celebrations organized by the World Language Department, parents, and the Diversity Club.
Much like their faculty counterparts, members of the Student Diversity Club participated in a number of leadership opportunities within the DC community. Two students attended the AIMS (Association of Independent Maryland & DC Schools) Student Diversity Leadership Conference at Garrison Forest School, six students participated in NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) Student Diversity Leadership Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, and ten students represented Holy Child at the "Seek Justice, Find Peace: A Town Hall Event," at Sidwell Friends School. When the Administrators of Color hosted the Fourth Annual Diversity on D.C., Maryland and Virginia Area Conference, at St. Andrews Episcopal School, eleven Holy Child students engaged in activities with other students from the area, learning ways to enhance Holy Child's mission. The Administrators of Color is a professional collaboration designed to support independent school administrators of color in our respective roles, promote cross/school sharing within a regional network, and cultivate a professional learning community for sharing best practices and engaging in leadership development.
Besides their leadership in the community, Holy Child students ventured outside of their community to explore the world, learn from others, and share their gifts. Ms. Vargas orchestrated the first Costa Rica exchange program in the summer of 2016 where five Holy Child students traveled to Costa Rica for two weeks. During their first week, the students lived with their host families, attended classes at Saint Francis High School, played with the band and music ensemble, and participated in a volleyball match against another group of visiting students from the U.S.. The second week, the students volunteered at an after-and-before care center for under privileged children (ASONI), playing with the children, serving them food, and chaperoning a Kindergarten field trip. In January, the Holy Child exchange participants hosted their Costa Rican hosts here at Holy Child where they attended school and shared their culture with us highlighting unique features of their country. Due to the success of the program, the Costa Rica exchange program just completed its second year this past summer.
Our students not only immerse themselves in the cultures of others, but they also live the Holy Child motto of "Actions Not Words." During Spring Break, teachers Meg Russell and Mary Sample traveled with seven students to Jamaica with Food for the Poor, encouraged by Wolly Devine, a member of Holy Child's class of 1979 and a volunteer with the organization. Halle Fralin, Elena Yuetter, McKenzie Crafton, Julia Strittmatter, Addie Robinson, Maggie Koch, and Katie Campbell visited an elderly home, played with children in an orphanage, and, most impressively, built a house for a family. Beyond giving themselves to others, the Holy Child students recognized the blessings in their lives, as Maggie Koch reflected, "I learned I should be more grateful for what I have." Furthermore, they appreciated learning about the lives of others, as Julia Strittmatter said, "Going on the Jamaica trip gave me a new perspective on how other people live."
Another highlight of Holy Child's diversity initiative is Louise Gao, a junior from China, who lives with Ellie Wall ('20) and her family. She feels Holy Child resembles a family more than a school and appreciates that "everyone helps each other," highlighting our motto "Actions, not Words." As a junior, Louise quickly embraced the Holy Child community, utilizing the Writing Center and Math Lab, participating in Holy Child’s Dance Team and Student Diversity Club, and performing in Acting Class and The Wizard of Oz. Louis believes “Holy Child always finds ways to give support" to students, "encouraging girls to develop their own interests."
While the Holy Child Diversity Program was in its infancy this year, in true Tiger fashion, Katia Vargas and the faculty, staff, and students demonstrated a true commitment to our mission by broadening our students' understanding and appreciation of themselves, others, and their world. Entreating the help and expertise of our students, faculty, staff, and other community members, Ms. Vargas successfully created lasting, impactful, and meaningful opportunities and programs to continue the mission of Cornelia Connelly and Holy Child, encouraging and valuing each individual in our school and beyond. We look forward to seeing what she accomplishes this year!
For more information on Holy Child’s Diversity Program please visit www.holychild.org/diversity.