The following message was shared with the AIS community via email on Thursday, December 3. If you did not receive this email and would like to receive updates on this work in the future, please email Brooke Corr, Director of Alumnae Relations, to update your contact information.
Dear Agnes Irwin Community,
Year 151 at our school has provided us an unprecedented opportunity to examine our history, reflect on our past, and look ahead to the future. Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, we have continued on in our work of creating a climate of diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism at Agnes Irwin.
We were encouraged by the energy and dedication displayed by our community this summer during our first Summit on Racial Justice. With participation from more than 400 individuals representing every constituency at AIS, we were inspired by the support for engaging in the work of establishing a vision for the future of equity, inclusion and anti-racism at Agnes Irwin. The Summit provided essential information for us as we listened deeply to our community and engaged in meaningful, solutions-focused discussions about every aspect of school from climate and culture, to curriculum and instruction, to preparing Agnes Irwin students for the world beyond our doors. These conversations, and the stories shared by alums, catalyzed our work in the school this year as we committed to focusing on daily, lived experiences of students and families at the school today.
Our work this year has focused on building a foundation for sustained and systemic progress at Agnes Irwin. Each day provides a new opportunity to evolve toward our goals as an institution and we are enthusiastic to share some of this fall's highlights:
Anti-Defamation League's Anti-Bias Curriculum Building Blocks
Building a foundation for anti-racism and inclusion work begins with our earliest learners at AIS. In our lower school this year, we have implemented the Anti-Defamation League's Anti-Bias Building Blocks, An Elementary School Curriculum for all students in grades K-4, which focuses on creating inclusive, respectful classroom environments where young students feel comfortable sharing and talking about challenging topics. Researched and designed to be developmentally appropriate for the elementary school learner, the curriculum builds understanding around identity and culture, and introduces students at Agnes Irwin to critical vocabulary such as prejudice and discrimination, equipping them with the tools to be upstanders in our community.
Principles of Civil Discourse
In anticipation of the 2020 election, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coordinators began researching and writing the Agnes Irwin School's Principles of Civil Discourse in January 2020. This document, rooted in our Equity & Inclusion Philosophy & our Core Values, served as a resource as we helped faculty, staff, students and families navigate the challenges of election season. Time was dedicated in divisional assemblies, advisories and classrooms to exploring these principles, designed to equip students with the tools necessary to engage in conversations on topics about which they might disagree. Recognizing the essential partnership between home and school, guidelines were created for parents as well, to assist them with gaining and practicing skills that help them support their daughters as they engage in difficult conversations. Though this tool was created to serve as an anchor for conversations related to the election, they certainly have application in conversations taking place in the school in our classrooms and hallways, and will continue to be used as instructional tools with students as they learn new things, wrestle with conflict, lean into discomfort and expand their understandings.
Middle School Affinity Groups
Affinity groups bring people together who have an identifier in common and are an important aspect of our program at AIS. In our middle school, we are beginning the implementation of our affinity group programming, bolstered by research conducted this summer by our Middle School DEI Coordinator. With a mission to "respect, value, and nurture diversity in our middle school and actively promote and develop a school community that is culturally competent, socially responsible, and globally engaged," these affinity groups are designed to serve as safe spaces for our students to be themselves and build positive relationships, to make sure that all of our students feel a sense of community and support, and to give students the tools they need to be upstanders who actively work to break down the social barriers of racism, bigotry and oppression. This year, middle schoolers will have the opportunity to participate in newly created and re-imagined affinity groups led by Upper School student leaders under the mentorship of our teachers.
Director of Upper School Search
We are pleased to share that we have launched a national search for the next Director of Upper School at Agnes Irwin. We have partnered with Stratégenius, a premier search firm for schools seeking diverse candidates for teaching and leadership positions. StratéGenius is one of the few BIPOC-owned search firms dedicated to serving independent schools, and we look forward to the inclusive search process that they will guide us through as we seek our next leader of the Upper School. This newly established partnership will also support us in our efforts toward recruitment, hiring and retention of a culturally-competent, diverse faculty and staff who reflect the vibrancy of our student community.
We take seriously the responsibility of the leaders and educators in our school to own the work of moving us forward as an institution. We have launched a robust professional development sequence for our team this year with a focus on building capacity, increasing empathy, and being accountable in our practice. Our Board of Trustees, administrators, faculty and staff have been regularly participating in professional development trainings during which we are examining principles of good practice for schools in equity and inclusion, evolving teaching practice and curriculum, and learning how to address difficult moments in the moment, in a way that preserves the dignity of our students and create a culture of safety in our school. With many more opportunities to come, our Board, administrators, faculty and staff have participated in monthly professional development specifically focused on issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racist practice. This collective work will be essential to long-term visioning and a sustained commitment for years to come.
Parents and guardians have a crucial role to play in cultivating a school-wide climate where students feel they belong. We are pleased to be offering our third year of Parent SEED in a re-imagined virtual format. With the largest group of parent participants to date, ranging all divisions and reflecting the diversity of the school community, this valuable experience helps build bridges across differences and gives each member of the cohort a chance to do the inner work that is core to effecting change in our parent/guardian community.
School-Wide Climate Audit
A critical piece to establishing long-term goals for Agnes Irwin is the completion of a school-wide climate audit that will help us gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities most pressing in our community. To this end, we have partnered with The Glasgow Group to engage our whole community in a confidential analysis process to gather feedback on school climate and culture. All constituent groups will be invited to participate in the audit, which includes an online survey followed by focus groups comprised of representatives across the school. We are especially grateful to the Alumnae Board for their generous support of this important school initiative, which will launch in early 2021. It is the Alumnae Board's hope that this will inspire others in the alumnae community to get involved, by participating fully in the audit process and encouraging others to do so.
Please help us capture as many voices as possible by making sure we have accurate contact information for alums representing our school's rich history. If you or a classmate need to update your contact information, please be in touch with Brooke Corr by December 31, 2020.
These are just a few of the initiatives at Agnes Irwin this year and we remain committed to doing the hard work, every single day, to make our school a place that lives into the mission and core values that charge us to celebrate and affirm the identities of all members of our community. We hope you'll take time to talk about the good work that we've started and partner with us in telling the story of the great work happening in the 151st year at our school.
Thank you for your commitment to supporting us in establishing and sustaining a climate of diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism at Irwin's. We are grateful for your continued partnership in this important work.
Sally B. Keidel
Head of School
Assistant Head of School for Academics & Inclusive Excellence