Committed to Diversity

Waldron Mercy Academy is a diverse, faith-filled community. Diversity is core to our mission. A commitment to diversity is inherent in the teachings of Mercy. But it has not been by accident. In fact, seeking and celebrating diversity is very intentional, ongoing work at Waldron.

Intentional Leadership

In 2009, the Board of Trustees formed the Diversity Committee as a standing committee chaired by a member of the board. The purpose of the committee is to support the mission and strategic plan of Waldron Mercy by ensuring that the entirety of the school’s policies, procedures and operations recognize and reverence the dignity and uniqueness of every individual who touches or is a part of our diverse community. From its inception, the committee has lived this purpose by seeking diverse membership on the committee, drawing from a variety of professional fields and connections to WMA and by hosting conversations and seeking feedback with stakeholders throughout the Waldron Mercy Academy community.

Core to the committee’s design is the provision for open-dialogue and developing venues for feedback, anonymous and direct. One of those sources of feedback is a survey the committee conducted in 2012 and again in 2016. The committee asked parents, faculty and staff to respond to questions about the success and challenges Waldron Mercy faces in terms of diversity. The committee used the results of the survey to inform the its goal setting and planning.

Another source of feedback came in the form of a parent event called Courageous Conversations. Parents who attended the event shared points of pride including WMA’s efforts to “provide a sense of inclusion and community for all of its members,” “diversity is represented in colors, religious denominations and family backgrounds” and “that diversity is in our mission.” Similarly, parents offered suggestions for improvement and growth including the diversity of the faculty, continued conversations, programming with students and parents and more volunteer involvement from parents. Feedback from the event, along with the surveys, play an important role in the goal setting of the diversity committee. Marcia Penn-Cummings P’12, chair of the Diversity Committee and member of the Board of Trustees, offered, “we really allow feedback from our entire community to inform our planning and programming.”

Over the years, the committee has three critical goals:

  • Diversity among the faculty and staff
  • Open dialogue among the Waldron Mercy Academy community
  • Professional development and resources for the Waldron Mercy Academy community

Bryan Carter P’21, current member of the committee, added that these are enduring goals that keep the committee’s focus on what can be accomplished now, while allowing for long-term efforts to ensure a continued commitment to diversity. For example, the committee is finalizing a proposed policy for hiring strategies and practices that will promote greater diversity. This project began with a focus group with a dozen educators from diverse backgrounds and levels of teaching experience in both public and private schools. The group looked at job postings, salary and benefits package, mission, strategic plan and school environment.

Similarly, the committee has facilitated a number of professional development workshops for Waldron Mercy employees, the Board of Trustees and the Diversity Committee, as well as guest speaker events. These sessions have brought presenters like Fr. Stephen D. Thorne, pastor of Saint Martin de Porres and one of only fourteen African-American Catholic priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, as cited by the Office of Black Catholics, Dr. Mykee Fowlin, psychologist, performer and poet, and Dr. Howard C. Stevenson, professor of urban education and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Topics ranged from promoting racial literacy in schools to reexamining perceptions, allowing space for humor and opening hearts and minds to the conversation.

“We recognize that conversations on diversity and inclusion are not always easy. We want to create an environment in which people feel safe to express culturally based values, perceptions, and experiences,” Penn-Cummings said. “We continue to approach diversity and inclusion with a growth mindset. We are all learning and living together and the road ahead is long.

Committed Faculty

From small acts like purchasing stickers, marker colors and dolls that offer young students the ability to see and represent themselves in their crafts, to big efforts like enhancing the library collection to include more books about and authored by diverse people, Waldron Mercy Academy’s faculty is invested in providing an educational experience that welcomes and recognizes diversity in all its many forms. World religions, cultural heritages, racial identity and family make-up are a few of the modes of diversity within the curriculum.

When Caitlin Mulroy, library and media specialist, rejoined the Waldron Mercy faculty this past fall, she began expanding the collection looking for books with subjects and authors that showcased diverse people. “Students not only check out books for pleasure, but they also use the library as a resource for their classroom assignments. It’s important for the students to hear from a variety of voices,” Mulroy says.

Beth Hymel, art teacher, selects a cultural theme each year. This year, the students studied African art, including Islamic mosaics, Ndebele house painting, Sotho masks and Dogan granary doors. She partnered with Bob Fogarty, religion teacher, to develop a lesson plan around the Dogan people of Mali in which the students were asked to write self-reflections on their own values and how, despite the dramatic differences in cultures and resources, they had shared beliefs with the people. “My goal is to help the students appreciate a diversity of cultures and to recognize our shared humanity through points of commonality” says Hymel.

In the middle school, the conversation runs throughout the year in social studies, language arts, history and religion classes. Novel study in grade eight focuses on texts that explore issues of sameness and difference, as well as appearance versus reality. With works such as The House on Mango Street and To Kill a Mockingbird, students try to get to the root of issues of prejudice and discrimination. This work is furthered with a three-day workshop facilitated by Armando Martinez, assistant residence director at Syracuse University. The workshops help students to develop skills necessary to understand and respectfully discuss issues of difference. Katie DeSanto, language arts teacher, offers that "the students walk away from their workshops with Mr. Martinez with new eyes. They see each other differently, more fully. They make connections between the simple, swift judgements that we all make about each other and the larger issues of injustice that exist in our society."

Students also have the opportunity to attend the annual Multicultural Resource Center of the Philadelphia Independent Schools Diversity Conference held at the Haverford School. “Every year, I am impressed with the maturity in which our students engaged in conversation on topics of diversity, inclusion, and stereotypes at the conference,” says Theresa Gannon, middle school director, “and what they bring back to school in terms of new understandings, communications skills, and commitment to being present for and learning from each other.” In the youngest grades, children study families and their many configurations and the learn to celebrate the uniqueness of each child. They also study different religious celebrations and cultural backgrounds. “These are, in many cases, their first introduction to something different than they know at home” says Kristin Romano, lower school director.

Community Gathering, where the entire school gathers weekly, has also been a space for celebrating diversity. For several years, the school has celebrated Chinese New Year with a traditional lion dance and had a taste of the famous Odunde Festival with a special lesson in drumming and dancing. “We invite diverse cultural celebrations into our school because there is so much to be learned from each other and sometimes it's through these moments that our students best see our commonality,” says Romano.

Principal Nell Stetser shares, “Waldron Mercy provides foundational education to our young students. Awareness and understanding of our diverse community is a critical part of that foundation. It's exciting to see the students’ curiosity and compassion for each other’s experiences.”

Ever Learning and Growing

All the efforts of faculty, staff and the Diversity Committee are based on the belief that a commitment to diversity is evergreen and never done. “We are a continuous learning and improvement school,” Carter says, “we believe that professional development is for expanding our knowledge and growing in our areas of expertise.” Romano shared that she appreciates the chance to bring new resources to the school and is looking for curriculum and professional development tools that will empower cultural awareness and age-appropriate conversations in the classroom.

Recruiting a diverse faculty is a challenge WMA continues to tackle. Stetser shares, “we have developed strategies to help grow a diverse pool of candidates for our teaching staff and measure our successes and challenges in this area closely. I am hopeful that these practices will produce results in future hiring.”

Penn-Cummings hopes to one day have a staff position dedicated to diversity, someone who is responsible for the thoughtful infusion into curriculum, facilitating conversations and conflict resolution, and bringing special events and opportunities to our students and faculty.

Carter offered, it is important to “always look where we can do better and not be discouraged by setbacks,” which is exactly what Waldron Mercy Academy’s faculty and leadership are committed to doing.

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