This is an important time for schools to be open and honest as they reflect on their mission and prepare for the future. It would be a mistake to not acknowledge the significant and overdue shift we are currently living through as we reflect on work in support of social justice and diversity, equity, and inclusion.
We’re thrilled to officially announce that Vanessa Bertoni-McElroy is The Orchard School’s new diversity, equity, and inclusion coordinator. This position will support the Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as well as establish connections with outside institutions and collaborate with them to expand diversity at The Orchard School. Vanessa will also work to promote understanding of our diversity and increase visibility within the Orchard community.
For those of you who don’t know, Vanessa is also an Orchard parent and active member of the Parents' Association. For the lead two years, she helped lead and contribute to the success of the Orchard Auction committee. Read our Q&A below and get to know a little bit more about Vanessa and her new role at Orchard!
A lot of us know you as an Orchard parent, especially on the early childhood and elementary side of the building. But for those in our community who don’t know you, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I moved to the States 20 years ago from Venezuela. My parents are Italian and Venezuelan. I married a Hoosier and we have three children who attend The Orchard School. As a family, we enjoy traveling and exploring new places. We love making homemade meals and just spending quality time together. I have been immersed in diversity my whole life; from the family I grew up in, to my nuclear family in Indy. I consider diversity to be a passion of mine and recognize it as an asset at Orchard. Diversity is something that should be talked about and celebrated. I am thrilled to be the new Coordinator of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. I have been waiting for this position for a long time!
It sounds like your passion for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) will fuel your work as Orchard’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator. When you look at the big picture, what’s your overall goal for this position?
As the new DEI Coordinator, I would like to establish connections with outside institutions and collaborate with them to expand diversity Orchard, as well as promote understanding of our diversity and increase visibility within the Orchard community. I hope to discover and explore new ways to aid faculty and staff in supporting DEI work.
What are some other initiatives you will take on in this new role for Orchard?
I intend to ensure DEI is embedded into the culture of the school. Encouraging and maintaining diversity in our classrooms is a perfect way for students to learn invaluable lessons. I will work to increase the representation of Orchard in community events that run parallel to DEI. I will also assist faculty to create inclusive environments that promote diversity.
Where do you think Orchard excels in DEI work, and in what areas do you think we could improve?
In recent years, Orchard has seen an increase in diversity among our families. We must continue the diligent work to nurture a culture of acceptance and appreciation for differences. We need to recognize and celebrate the diversity within our campus. The investment in having a diverse school will enable us, as a society, to advance equity for all. I plan on increasing the school presence in community events that promote diversity and collaborate with peer schools to foster relationships and exchange best practices. Having exposure to sectors of the community that aren’t our norm will help us to expand our applicant pool. The Orchard community is extremely generous and supportive of our families. We need the Indianapolis metropolitan area to know that Orchard is working hard to grow and strengthen our DEI work.
What drew you to Orchard as a prospective family?
We were drawn to Orchard by the progressive method of education. We recognize that not all children learn the same way or at the same pace. We wanted an education for our children that was tailored to their specific needs and interests. It was not hard to fall in love with the school grounds. It was like nothing we had seen in the city.
Finally, you recently wrapped another successful year as co-chair of Orchard’s Auction. Do you plan on still being involved with the event through the lens of DEI?
Absolutely, my involvement with the school’s annual auction helped me identify ways to make the event even more diverse and inclusive. My intention is to collaborate with the Parents' Association committee to assist with the planning. The auction night is one of my favorite school functions.