The High School Student News Site of The American School in London

The Standard

The High School Student News Site of The American School in London

The Standard

The next step


The students of ASL will come of age in a world immersed in globalization. The rise of non-western superpowers and the emergence of colossal and previously untapped markets will demand a degree of comfort in diversity hitherto unrequired; globalization will hurtle us towards a radically different future. Gone are the days of a workplace uncompromising in its uniformity; in its stead, a new environment––one defined by heterogeneity––has arrived. Diversity is no longer a fragile aspiration, but has grown into a concrete, universal, and desired norm.

Among the administration of ASL the depth and diversity of its community is a point of pride. “What people love about ASL is that it is not homogenous and it is not all the same. People come from different countries and with different viewpoints,” said Head of School Coreen Hester. Think of the people coming from little towns in Connecticut or New Jersey … the world is bigger here.”

With this in mind can not be accused of true homogeneity, however the student body is more diverse on paper than in reality––varying more in statistics than in people. Though accurate, the statistics that Hester unfurls at the annual start of school assembly regarding the 50 countries represented, and 20 odd languages that spoken, are visible in the speech itself but are less prevalent in the hallways and classrooms of ASL themselves.

Identifying the problem

The first step in solving any problem is acknowledging there is one. Math Department Head Neil Basu, who is a strong advocate for school diversity, believes that ASL is not currently capitalizing on the already multi-cultural community that exists. “We actually have a tremendously multi cultural student body and faculty but what is amazing to me is the lived experience of being here is so typically American. This school is not so different from the independent school in America that I taught at, and that is striking to me,” he said.

The second step is to define it. But how can one define diversity? Principal Jack Phillips believes that genuine diversity embraces all possible facets. “Diversity applies to all aspects of the human experience, and I think we need to focus on this bigger picture of diversity. It applies to gender, gender identity, sexual identity as well as religion or socioeconomic level,” he said.

The importance of diversity is not lost upon Phillips, who believes that as the world globalizes, it is imperative that schools must do so as well. “The more exposure and more variety in terms of other people’s experiences that you can interact with, the better prepared you are going to be for that kind of world when you become adults,” he said. “The world is so complicated now that we can’t assume that any one person has a monopoly on the best ideas, and the more we can introduce new ideas and different perspectives the more students will be exposed to the best ideas the world has to offer.”

Basu likewise considers a diverse community to be essential to the learning and academic development of the student body. “I think that diversity is about academic excellence. That when we come into contact with people who are not like us we are challenged to think differently and to grow in new ways. By having a more diverse student body and one that is supported and honoured in its diversity that every student at ASL will have a richer educational experience,” he said. “The most important thing is that it has to come back to  the learning.”

Phillips’ and Basu’s statements point to the same idea. That ASL, as a highly regarded educational institution and one that aspires to continually improve, has an inherent responsibility, to both itself and to it’s students, to create a school community that encompasses all possible facets of diversity, and will create an environment that is both safe and conducive for the success of students who do not conform to the traditional ASL stereotype of white, wealthy, and American.

Creating the change

In the spring of 2012, the Board of Trustees chose to act. In accordance with goal three of the then newly published Strategic Plan, which is entitled “An Inclusive and Diverse Community”, as a springboard, the Board issued a mandate to the administration of the school to broaden the applicant pool, to adopt a diversity statement and to rewrite the admissions policy.

Hester stated that this has led the admissions department to be more aggressive in their pursuit of students and families. “Instead of just being a school who accepted students who applied, we would act more like an admission office in New York or San Francisco, by being aggressive, by going out and letting people know who we are,” she said.

The targets of this assertive new admissions policy are students and families who do not fit the traditional ASL stereotype. “If you take the typical ASL student, they are white, American and full-paying,” Hester said. “What would it be like to make sure we had plenty of applicants who were non-white, non-American, and non full-paying?”

The administration hopes that these atypical students and families will come from closer to home, specifically London. “We are looking at diversifying the student body in terms of perhaps, enrollment, perhaps more students from the U.K. who are born and raised here. They will contribute to make this school stronger,” Phillips said.

With this new territory, comes new methods. Dean of Admissions Jodi Warren is acting behind the scenes, implementing new and experimental techniques to attract the variety that is being demanded by the Board of Trustees.

One method that has been revamped is the Open House events that have been occurring since Hester’s arrival. Hester described the Open House: “It is where [families] go around in groups and get to see the school in action, and then at the end of the tour I give a talk about our demographics and our financial aid, and then we field questions for a half hour or so,” she said.

Warren has adapted the Open Houses by changing their scheduling and how they are advertised. “We are trying to find a different format and timing for the Open House. We had one [for the first time] in the evening which was extremely well-attended,” she said. “We have made the Open House much more prominent on the website. For the first time we advertised in The Ham and High which is a local paper, we advertised in Focus, a magazine for expats, and one called The Voice which bills itself as England’s black newspaper.”

The school has taken other initiatives to share information on ASL with the wider London community. On November 8 and 9, various members of the ASL administration, faculty, and student body manned a booth at the Independent Schools Show in Battersea, which advertises as an exhibition that helps connect parents who are looking for a private school education for their children to local schools.

There to help promote ASL was Celia Mitchell (’15), who was selected to go because of her work as a student tour guide. Mitchell believed the purpose of attending the fair was to be finding families who would not usually apply to ASL. “The whole point [of being] there was to find an outlet to advertise ASL to a broader community and area of London. Families that may not have heard of ASL got the opportunity to meet with us and learn more about us,” she said. “Socioeconomic [diversity] was a big one at the fair, a lot of families were from areas where currently ASL families may not live.”

Socioeconomic diversity has been an area in which ASL has struggled. With only slightly more than 7 percent of this year’s budget being reserved for financial aid, ASL is severely lacking when compared to other private schools in the U.S., where financial aid receives up to 15 or 20 percent of the budget.

The proportion of money allotted to financial aid is on the rise. “The Board has increased the amount of financial aid and it’s going up gradually and it started at about 6 percent and this year 7.6 and next year 8 percent. That’s something that we can somewhat control,” Warren said.

As an institution that acquires the entirety of its funding from tuition and private donations, ASL is not in a position to drastically change the demographics, specifically socioeconomically, that compose the school. Hester acknowledged this, saying, “We aren’t going to change the whole school, it’s just a matter of degree and making sure we have the kind of multiculturalism in the community that promotes excellence.”

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