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Shady Hill School and Diversity Education: A Continuing Evolution

Shady Hill School and Diversity Education: A Continuing Evolution

Zachary Lyncée SHS 2012 (center) created and facilitated a workshop, “Stand Up Against Bullying,” at the 2012 AISNE Middle School Diversity Conference.

As I begin my 19th year at Shady Hill School and we approach the School’s centennial celebration, I am pleased to reflect on our roots and diversity initiatives. Shady Hill enrolls 500 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and is committed to stewarding a rich multicultural curriculum and a diverse and inclusive community.

Did you know that Maria Baldwin was the catalyst for starting Shady Hill? Her school, known as “Miss Baldwin’s School” in Cambridge, was the public elementary school the Agassiz School (recently changed to The Baldwin School).

“Miss Baldwin was one of a very few black teachers to become a principal in Cambridge, but she did and ran a good school. Among her constituents were a number of the Harvard-connected families who wanted co-education for their children and who believed in supporting the public schools.” This quote is from “Shady Hill School: The First 50 Years,” which describes the start of our school in 1915.

When the building that housed Miss Baldwin’s School was condemned and torn down in 1914, Miss Baldwin retired. William Ernest Hocking and his wife Agnes O’Reilly Hocking, whose children had been enrolled at Miss Baldwin’s School, took interest in beginning a new school and established the co-educational, progressive Cooperative Open Air School — which eventually became Shady Hill School.

From the beginning, Shady Hill has been committed to being a progressive institution with a diverse community. Our first students of color were admitted in the 1940s. In the 1960s, the School raised funds to create greater socioeconomic diversity within our student body. Our teachers and parents joined together to promote racial awareness in the 1970s, and Diversity at Shady Hill (DASH), our community’s diversity group, was established in the 1980s. The first affinity group for students of color was established soon after.

In the 1990s, a group of Shady Hill teachers, along with teachers from other local independent schools, established an annual Middle School Student Diversity Conference. The Association of Independent Schools in New England (AISNE) has taken over the administration of this event. Last spring, Shady Hill hosted nearly 250 middle school students from AISNE schools at a conference entitled, “Looking at Social Justice and Equity Through The Arts.” Students spent the day in workshops focused on a variety of social issues, including bullying, racism, stereotyping and hunger and looked at how art can be used to address injustice. Middle School student participants demonstrated leadership skills, as many were able to lead workshops with their peers.

This fall, the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) will publish an article in Independent School magazine about a community-wide socioeconomic diversity study conducted at Shady Hill last year. The article, written by Shady Hill’s Head of School Mark Stanek, describes our year-long initiative that included community readings and conversations, a survey that asked families about their socioeconomic perspectives and a series of speakers. As a tuition-charging school — many families pay full tuition, but the school’s need-based financial aid program awards over $2 million in aid every year — we are very aware that our community includes parents and children representing a wide range of financial circumstances. Last year’s open and thoughtful conversations have inspired us to continue work in this area this year.

My role has changed over time, and being part of an institution with dedication to social justice has been both rewarding and inspiring. As coordinator of students of color, gender, and new student affinity groups, and director of diversity-related service initiatives, I am energized in knowing that each student can embrace Shady Hill as his or her own school. With 32 percent of our student body identifying as students of color, a variety of family structures, students coming from 40 different communities and many different languages spoken in our homes, we have tremendous opportunities to celebrate each other’s backgrounds.

Each year, we add students in pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten, Grades 3 and Grade 6, and we occasionally have openings in other grades, as well. Please come to an Admission Open House and visit our website at to learn more about Shady Hill School and begin the admission process. I look forward to meeting you!