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The Importance of a School's Mission

By Frédéric Bordaguibel-Labayle

08/09/2017

Fred is the High School Associate Principal and IB Diploma Coordinator at Academia Cotopaxi American International School in Quito, Ecuador.
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In the 2016-2017 school year, I came to deeply understand what it looks like to allow the school's mission to guide the decision-making process. To illustrate this, I would like to share a story that profoundly affected our school community. In order to really grasp the situation, it is important to keep our school mission in mind:

"We are an English language-based learning community that values diversity, embraces a culture of collaboration, innovation, and excellence, and inspires empathetic and ethical student leaders."

At the end of the 2014-2015 school year, a small group of high school students approached our counselors with a request. They wanted to create a safe space for high school students who identified as members of the LGBTQ+ community and for those who had interest in the topic.

After a consultation with the High School Principal, there was a soft launch towards the end of the 2015 school year, then the Rainbow Club was officially founded in August 2015. This first year was absolutely terrific. I joined a high school counselor and together we served as supervisors to the group, which met in my classroom once a week at lunchtime.

In those early days, we worked hard to write our club mission based on discussing LGBTQ+ issues and educating our community. Coming up with this mission took several months but we wanted to get it right and students eventually presented it to the Admin team. During the year, we held a movie night that was very well attended, we held lunchtime booths for high school students with music and information/infographics dealing with LGBTQ+ related issues in the world, and we made plans to educate the community.

Everything went really well until the yearbook photo for the Rainbow club was mistakenly labelled as LGBT on the Activities page. At the very beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, some parents created a social media group to discuss their concerns regarding the Rainbow club in a preK-12 school environment. Some accused the club (and indirectly us--that is, me and the high school counselor) of promoting homosexuality at school. Others argued that this topic should not be brought up in a school at all.

After a particularly difficult meeting with some parents, Director Madeleine Heide led her team on an amazing and courageous journey of learning. We clearly underestimated the impact that the club would have on the community and we should have communicated more about the club along the way. This echoes Julie Ryan and Barry Dequanne’s moto during my last PTC course: communicate, communicate, communicate.

Nevertheless, we felt that it was our duty to support the club and the students. We constantly referred back to our mission (especially: "We are an English language-based learning community that values diversity") and the school hired a conflict resolution specialist who has worked for Harvard University and for a prestigious university in Quito. He created a committee called the Fact Determination Committee, to do away with rumors about the Rainbow club that were spreading in our community.

Later on, a second committee was launched, the Dialogue Committee, with members of our community who were opposed to or in favor of the club working to come up with an agreement about its future. The whole process took most of the academic year and it felt like a rather long ride. There were some successes along the way, but the Rainbow club members sometimes expressed their frustrations to us.

After all this work and several reports by the different committees and by the conflict resolution specialist, the Board of Trustees took the decision to allow the Rainbow student-led activity (the new name) to continue. Academia Cotopaxi has adhered to its mission, defending this idea of valuing diversity and also educating the community.

In hindsight, I have learned a lot about what it means to have a mission and to strictly adhere to it when making decisions. While some parents were not happy with the existence of the Rainbow club, many also expressed their support, referring explicitly to our mission statement.

The Rainbow student-led activity will be fully operational for the 2017-2018 school year. Students were outstanding leaders throughout the process and I have felt immensely privileged to work with Director Heide, our Admin team, the high school counselor and our students throughout the year. I can’t wait to start the Rainbow student-led activity again!




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