A recent assembly at Notre Dame Academy was meant to enlighten the students about Hispanic culture, but it was also an element of an ongoing message the school hopes to send about diversity and respect.
“One of the things I'm pleased with,” Sister Sally Marie Bohnett said, “is that the idea arose from the students.”
The school has a diversity specialist, a diversity task force, and clubs that are meant to involve students in different cultures.
Sister Sally said the task force and other initiatives aren't intended to recruit minorities to the school, they are meant to help retain those students. They also let girls about to enter high school know that the academy is a welcoming place for everyone.
The task force, she said, “is a program that over the last couple of years has been a sounding board for awareness within the school.”
Karen Jankowski, moderator of the African-American Club, said that as an example to getting the message across, the school has a “think before you speak” week meant to keep students aware of how words they use might be hurtful.
“Sometimes words can be offensive to some of us, even though they weren't meant to be,” she said. “It's those kinds of things we want our students to think about, not just in school, but all the time.”
If there is a problem it usually is referred to the diversity task force, made up of faculty, staff, and students.
Sister Sally said there have been instances in which there have been misunderstandings and they have been successfully dealt with through the task force.
She said the school prints a calendar each year that highlights important dates for Christians as well as days of significance for other religions and ethnic groups.
This year's Hispanic assembly stressed differing cultures among groups generally identified as Hispanic, according to Anna Gasiorski, a Spanish teacher who helped students put the assembly together.
She said that last year's assembly stressed Mexican traditions, “but there are many other Spanish-speaking countries and the students wanted all of them included this year,” she said.
In addition to Notre Dame students, the assembly included students from St. John Jesuit High School and St. Ursula Academy.
St. Ursula, West Toledo's other Catholic all-girl school, also sponsors events meant to show “our appreciation of cultural diversity, “ according to principal Jane McGee.
She said St. Ursula has special events meant to stress aspects of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds. Like Notre Dame, Ms. McGee said it is hoped that the message of inclusion will be spread by students.
Notre Dame has about 15 percent minority students and St. Ursula has about 10 percent, officials of each school said.
Sister Carol Gregory, principal and president of Notre Dame, said that inclusion is part of Catholic teaching, and that it is important for people to try to understand those from different backgrounds.
“We'd better learn too,” she said, gesturing toward two candles burning in the entryway of the school.
One is dedicated to the people of Israel and the other to Palestinians.