Reflecting the Diverse Community We Live In

Improving and Enriching the Experience of Every Learner

STORY BY VICTORIA MURADI // Photo by Michael Branscom

In education circles, we often hear the term “mirrors and windows” — the idea that we, as educators, can provide resources for children to learn about themselves and others. A mirror is a story that reflects your own culture and helps you build your identity. A window is a resource that offers you a view into someone else’s experience. Both are important to a learning community. Whether through literature, history, art or even our own personal connections with them, our students should see mirrors and windows. Unfortunately, they don’t always see themselves reflected.

Over the last five years, Durham Academy has worked hard on the mirrors and windows here in our community. Durham Academy’s 2015 Strategic Plan included goals to broaden the experience of diversity and renew our commitment to accessibility. Why? Because we believe diversity enlivens, improves and enriches the school — and the daily experience of every learner.

Lower School

That means trying to make sure our student body reflects the diverse community we live in. Since the strategic plan’s inception, DA has increased the number of students of color to 37.7% in 2019–2020, a 7.6% increase since 2015. We have created new partnerships with local organizations and feeder schools, and we have increased awareness of DA’s generous financial aid budget through our network of DA parents. And the work doesn’t stop there. Beyond numbers, we work to fully engage all of our families. Kemi Nonez, Director of Diversity, Equity and Engagement and Associate Director of Enrollment Management, has helped create new initiatives ranging from student affinity groups, to parent committees, to Inclusion Nights. (Read more about her work on page 46.)

For independent schools, tuition is often the greatest barrier for recruiting families from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Although DA’s annual need-based financial aid budget is more than $2 million, each year we have more demand than funds available. The strategic plan included a goal of increasing financial aid to maximize accessibility at a level comparable to our peer schools, particularly at our largest entry point in the Preschool. Preschool and Lower School parents, many of whom are younger and have had less time in their careers to build up savings, were often having to stretch beyond their means. With increased financial aid, our youngest families can make fewer sacrifices in order to enroll and keep their children at DA. We are also examining ways to streamline the process of requesting financial assistance and making the process more transparent for prospective and current families.

When considering affordability and accessibility, we looked for hidden costs beyond tuition that might be a source of additional financial hardship. We realized that families were often having to pay for additional items such as books, technology and supplies. A “Full Cost of DA” research and recommendation committee inventoried and categorized costs across the entire school. We identified ways for DA to absorb costs required for full participation in the school’s curricular program [related to a specific course and required for graduation]. As we change our curriculum and add new opportunities for students, we will continue this work.

One of Durham Academy’s greatest strengths is that we quickly identify areas needing improvement. This work is ongoing and will likely never be finished. In 2015, our community acknowledged the need to broaden diversity [in every sense of the word] and to renew our commitment to accessibility. We hope that by being more racially, culturally, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse, and by prioritizing inclusion through accessibility, students in pre-k through grade 12 will see those mirrors and windows in ways that strengthen who we are as a school.