A coeducational day school serving students JK-12

Eleannor Maajid’s office is never empty. As Latin’s Advocate for Students of Color for the last five years, she created a welcoming space for teachers, staff and students to come for support and counsel. In her new role as Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), her office remains as busy as ever, but the impact of her work is felt far beyond those four walls.

When asked about the path Latin has taken over the years, Maajid is proud of the progress made in regards to the width and breadth of DEI work. “When I think of DEI, it is truly becoming a part of everything we do,” she said. While still keeping student support at the heart of her day-to-day reality, Maajid now also oversees all DEI initiatives at Latin and her school-wide scope and strategic lens can require her to be involved in everything from human resources to enrollment management to athletics to communications—sometimes all in one day. As the chair of Latin’s Council for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, she is additionally responsible for articulating goals, brainstorming implementation and providing accountability.

“Latin’s new vision statement directs us to make learning inquiry-based, personal and inclusive,” Maajid shared. “All of these things align with our DEI goals: to help students know and understand themselves, to create a learning environment that supports each student as needed, and to continually grow our ability to understand and empathize with each other.” For Maajid, this commitment on a strategic level is critical. “It shows that DEI work is really who we are and the fabric of our being. It has become part of Latin’s identity.”

To develop a structure for the work ahead, Maajid has partnered with Dr. Derrick Gay, a thought leader and educational consultant who has worked in independent schools, businesses and universities in 17 countries across six continents for more than 20 years. In every country, schools are asking a similar question … what are their responsibilities for educating students so that they can be critical thinkers and develop an open mindset for navigating an increasingly complex world comprised of people from various backgrounds?

Before diving into the complexities, Gay likes to begin with language. As it turns out, definitions are important. Take the term “diversity” which Gay notes is often misunderstood. “Most people understand it as an identity; for example, a historically marginalized group, like women, people of color, LGBTQ+ or non-Christians.” But according to Gay, “diversity” is really a neutral term that means differences, not different. “We need to reframe ‘diversity’ from referring to a particular person to meaning differences. We are all different to other people. It is both an ideological and semantic shift,” he said. “When you redefine it this way, everyone feels included and can contribute to and benefit from diversity efforts.”

We need to prepare students for the knowledge, skills and competencies that they need to flourish and be successful in this interconnected, global world.
Dr. Derrick Gay, Educational Consultant
In addition to hosting dialogues and workshops with faculty, staff, parents and trustees, much of Gay’s work at Latin has been focused on coaching faculty and staff on framing diversity in alignment with the mission of the school. “We need to prepare students for the knowledge, skills and competencies that they need to flourish and be successful in this interconnected, global world,” said Gay. He believes that everything in schools—from literature to curriculum—needs to be a mirror or a window, a metaphor coined by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, a professor and researcher at The Ohio State University. “Children need to be able to see themselves—the mirror. But we also need to create spaces where children feel included and can learn about others in meaningful ways—the window. In this way, we can cultivate empathy, which is simply understanding and caring about the feelings of others.”

Lower school teacher-librarians Sheri Snopek and Luke Sutton are heartened by the publishing industry’s push in the last five or six years to showcase books with different characters and perspectives. However, there is still a long way to go for equitable representation. Statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin for 2018 indicate that only 23 percent of books published for children feature content by and about people of color. That’s up from 14.2 percent in 2015, yet still does not come close to reflecting youth population percentages. “It’s definitely getting better,” said Sutton, “but we could always use more books with different characters.”

Sutton and Snopek gather titles through suggestions from students, teachers and parents, as well as professional book reviews, online resources, and various library lists and publishers. “We have age-appropriate books on any topic you can think of,” said Snopek. “We try to have something for everyone.”

The learning around identity at every grade level in the lower school includes books that provide engaging windows and mirrors for students to learn about themselves and others. Every year begins with an all-school read that encourages students to broaden their idea of community. This fall, every lower school class read the book All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold. The book’s illustrations by Suzanne Kaufman are wonderfully inclusive. Author visits also give students a chance to learn about how writers create these stories. Last semester alone, four visits were arranged by the librarians. Children learned about the Indian holiday of Diwali with author Ajanta Chakraborty, were introduced to the important contributions of a diversity of activists throughout history with author Robin Stevenson, enjoyed Kyle Lukoff’s When Aidan Became a Brother featuring a family’s embrace of a transgender child and followed the writing process of award-winning author and illustrator Grace Lin. A family presentation about the importance of diversifying children’s bookshelves was included as part of Grace Lin’s visit, giving adults the opportunity to learn as well.

Sutton and Snopek are mindful of the books they put on display and try to pick titles that reflect the diverse world around the students. “It is really awesome when you see a student who is excited to read something because the person depicted looks like them,” said Snopek.

Middle school affective education focuses on social and emotional learning, and includes character building. Fifth through eighth graders all study identity with middle school wellness teacher Dr. Richard Dickinson. Each grade examines what identity is, how it is developed and how it affects relationships, albeit in age-appropriate ways.

For example, Dickinson does an activity called The Apprentice with each grade level. Students are given eight candidates for an engineer who can support life on Mars. However, they are given very little information other than the names of the candidates. Some names are ambiguous by gender or ethnicity. Students have to fire a candidate each round. “The purpose is to uncover unconscious bias,” said Dickinson. “The point of the exercise is that we all carry these, so we need to be aware so we can make more conscious decisions.” Interestingly, the fifth graders, who are more eager to fire the candidates, are less aware of their biases and prejudices. “It was very eye-opening for many of them,” said Dickinson. “The eighth graders are much more reticent. They have a greater level of discomfort about firing candidates, given the little information they have. They also exhibited a greater level of shame in their awareness of their biases.”

While Dickinson acknowledges that middle schoolers are sometimes challenging to teach, he loves that he is able to start students thinking about positive personal identity. “The more students can accept and appreciative differences, the more empathy and understanding they will have. We want students to feel free, open, safe and not marginalized because of any component in their identity.”

Upper school Global Studies Visual Arts (GSVA) class is an opportunity for ninth grade to focus on connecting artwork to their identity. Betty Lark Ross, chair of the visual arts department and GSVA teacher, explained the My Visual Culture project, where students take photos of five small meaningful artifacts that will fit on a neutral background. Students then set to work, using one of 150 contemporary master images, giving students a guide for composition or color. “Students can incorporate the items into their work in any way they want, using any medium. The challenge is to make their work very personalized,” said Ross.

Ross insists that students must learn that they are unique and have creative ideas. “Many people think they are not artistic. We want to empower students to know they can express themselves visually.”

English class is another opportunity for ninth graders to explore identity. All freshmen students read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The novel tells the story of Starr, an African-American girl who lives in a black neighborhood but attends a predominantly white school. “Starr attends a school that is a lot like Latin, so Williamson Prep serves as a mirror,” said Kate Lorber-Crittenden who is the upper school diversity coordinator and also an upper school English teacher who has taught the text for two years. Starr witnesses a white police officer kill her childhood friend, and the news story becomes national. When the grand jury does not indict the officer, Starr becomes increasingly vocal about the situation, which causes tensions with her friends at school.

“The novel asks students to think about biases,” Lorber-Crittenden said. “Where we grow up and our values affect our understanding of people who might be different.”

“Students love this text. The protagonist is around their age, and it deals with real-life experiences,” said Lorber-Crittenden. “It has a lot of relevance.”

“The goal is to create a learning environment so that we can support everyone,” said Gay. Helping students understand their identities and the identities of others is critical to all members of the community feeling valued and engaged, which are the best conditions for learning.

DEI

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Latin Frames Diversity for the Twenty-First Century

Eleannor Maajid’s office is never empty. As Latin’s Advocate for Students of Color for the last five years, she created a welcoming space for teachers, staff and students to come for support and counsel. In her new role as Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), her office remains as busy as ever, but the impact of her work is felt far beyond those four walls.

When asked about the path Latin has taken over the years, Maajid is proud of the progress made in regards to the width and breadth of DEI work. “When I think of DEI, it is truly becoming a part of everything we do,” she said. While still keeping student support at the heart of her day-to-day reality, Maajid now also oversees all DEI initiatives at Latin and her school-wide scope and strategic lens can require her to be involved in everything from human resources to enrollment management to athletics to communications—sometimes all in one day. As the chair of Latin’s Council for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, she is additionally responsible for articulating goals, brainstorming implementation and providing accountability.

“Latin’s new vision statement directs us to make learning inquiry-based, personal and inclusive,” Maajid shared. “All of these things align with our DEI goals: to help students know and understand themselves, to create a learning environment that supports each student as needed, and to continually grow our ability to understand and empathize with each other.” For Maajid, this commitment on a strategic level is critical. “It shows that DEI work is really who we are and the fabric of our being. It has become part of Latin’s identity.”

To develop a structure for the work ahead, Maajid has partnered with Dr. Derrick Gay, a thought leader and educational consultant who has worked in independent schools, businesses and universities in 17 countries across six continents for more than 20 years. In every country, schools are asking a similar question … what are their responsibilities for educating students so that they can be critical thinkers and develop an open mindset for navigating an increasingly complex world comprised of people from various backgrounds?

Before diving into the complexities, Gay likes to begin with language. As it turns out, definitions are important. Take the term “diversity” which Gay notes is often misunderstood. “Most people understand it as an identity; for example, a historically marginalized group, like women, people of color, LGBTQ+ or non-Christians.” But according to Gay, “diversity” is really a neutral term that means differences, not different. “We need to reframe ‘diversity’ from referring to a particular person to meaning differences. We are all different to other people. It is both an ideological and semantic shift,” he said. “When you redefine it this way, everyone feels included and can contribute to and benefit from diversity efforts.”

We need to prepare students for the knowledge, skills and competencies that they need to flourish and be successful in this interconnected, global world.
Dr. Derrick Gay, Educational Consultant
In addition to hosting dialogues and workshops with faculty, staff, parents and trustees, much of Gay’s work at Latin has been focused on coaching faculty and staff on framing diversity in alignment with the mission of the school. “We need to prepare students for the knowledge, skills and competencies that they need to flourish and be successful in this interconnected, global world,” said Gay. He believes that everything in schools—from literature to curriculum—needs to be a mirror or a window, a metaphor coined by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, a professor and researcher at The Ohio State University. “Children need to be able to see themselves—the mirror. But we also need to create spaces where children feel included and can learn about others in meaningful ways—the window. In this way, we can cultivate empathy, which is simply understanding and caring about the feelings of others.”

Lower school teacher-librarians Sheri Snopek and Luke Sutton are heartened by the publishing industry’s push in the last five or six years to showcase books with different characters and perspectives. However, there is still a long way to go for equitable representation. Statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin for 2018 indicate that only 23 percent of books published for children feature content by and about people of color. That’s up from 14.2 percent in 2015, yet still does not come close to reflecting youth population percentages. “It’s definitely getting better,” said Sutton, “but we could always use more books with different characters.”

Sutton and Snopek gather titles through suggestions from students, teachers and parents, as well as professional book reviews, online resources, and various library lists and publishers. “We have age-appropriate books on any topic you can think of,” said Snopek. “We try to have something for everyone.”

The learning around identity at every grade level in the lower school includes books that provide engaging windows and mirrors for students to learn about themselves and others. Every year begins with an all-school read that encourages students to broaden their idea of community. This fall, every lower school class read the book All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold. The book’s illustrations by Suzanne Kaufman are wonderfully inclusive. Author visits also give students a chance to learn about how writers create these stories. Last semester alone, four visits were arranged by the librarians. Children learned about the Indian holiday of Diwali with author Ajanta Chakraborty, were introduced to the important contributions of a diversity of activists throughout history with author Robin Stevenson, enjoyed Kyle Lukoff’s When Aidan Became a Brother featuring a family’s embrace of a transgender child and followed the writing process of award-winning author and illustrator Grace Lin. A family presentation about the importance of diversifying children’s bookshelves was included as part of Grace Lin’s visit, giving adults the opportunity to learn as well.

Sutton and Snopek are mindful of the books they put on display and try to pick titles that reflect the diverse world around the students. “It is really awesome when you see a student who is excited to read something because the person depicted looks like them,” said Snopek.

Middle school affective education focuses on social and emotional learning, and includes character building. Fifth through eighth graders all study identity with middle school wellness teacher Dr. Richard Dickinson. Each grade examines what identity is, how it is developed and how it affects relationships, albeit in age-appropriate ways.

For example, Dickinson does an activity called The Apprentice with each grade level. Students are given eight candidates for an engineer who can support life on Mars. However, they are given very little information other than the names of the candidates. Some names are ambiguous by gender or ethnicity. Students have to fire a candidate each round. “The purpose is to uncover unconscious bias,” said Dickinson. “The point of the exercise is that we all carry these, so we need to be aware so we can make more conscious decisions.” Interestingly, the fifth graders, who are more eager to fire the candidates, are less aware of their biases and prejudices. “It was very eye-opening for many of them,” said Dickinson. “The eighth graders are much more reticent. They have a greater level of discomfort about firing candidates, given the little information they have. They also exhibited a greater level of shame in their awareness of their biases.”

While Dickinson acknowledges that middle schoolers are sometimes challenging to teach, he loves that he is able to start students thinking about positive personal identity. “The more students can accept and appreciative differences, the more empathy and understanding they will have. We want students to feel free, open, safe and not marginalized because of any component in their identity.”

Upper school Global Studies Visual Arts (GSVA) class is an opportunity for ninth grade to focus on connecting artwork to their identity. Betty Lark Ross, chair of the visual arts department and GSVA teacher, explained the My Visual Culture project, where students take photos of five small meaningful artifacts that will fit on a neutral background. Students then set to work, using one of 150 contemporary master images, giving students a guide for composition or color. “Students can incorporate the items into their work in any way they want, using any medium. The challenge is to make their work very personalized,” said Ross.

Ross insists that students must learn that they are unique and have creative ideas. “Many people think they are not artistic. We want to empower students to know they can express themselves visually.”

English class is another opportunity for ninth graders to explore identity. All freshmen students read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The novel tells the story of Starr, an African-American girl who lives in a black neighborhood but attends a predominantly white school. “Starr attends a school that is a lot like Latin, so Williamson Prep serves as a mirror,” said Kate Lorber-Crittenden who is the upper school diversity coordinator and also an upper school English teacher who has taught the text for two years. Starr witnesses a white police officer kill her childhood friend, and the news story becomes national. When the grand jury does not indict the officer, Starr becomes increasingly vocal about the situation, which causes tensions with her friends at school.

“The novel asks students to think about biases,” Lorber-Crittenden said. “Where we grow up and our values affect our understanding of people who might be different.”

“Students love this text. The protagonist is around their age, and it deals with real-life experiences,” said Lorber-Crittenden. “It has a lot of relevance.”

“The goal is to create a learning environment so that we can support everyone,” said Gay. Helping students understand their identities and the identities of others is critical to all members of the community feeling valued and engaged, which are the best conditions for learning.

DEI

Explore Our News & Stories

Lower school students looking at a computer

In a world where students are spending a significant part of their school day online, it is now more important than ever to develop thoughtful and empathetic digital citizens from a young age. 

Fourth grade students are studying what it means to be a considerate digital citizen and maintain a positive digital footprint with Fiona Deeney, Latin’s lower school computer science and technology integration specialist. A digital citizen is someone who develops skills to responsibly use technology, including digital devices and online media platforms. When individuals share information online, they leave a digital footprint. A digital citizen is someone who develops skills to responsibly use technology, including digital devices and online media platforms.

After the students learned the basics of online safety and digital footprints, they were tasked with creating a graphic that encompassed these lessons. In order to complete the assignment, they researched a credible digital media platform to build their piece–Pic Collage was a popular option among the students.

Hear more about what it means to be a responsible digital citizen and how to manage a digital footprint from fourth grade students Colleen C. ’29 and Annabelle W. ’29.

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Jessie Heider

Get to know Jessie Heider who has been Latin's partner from Athletico and athletic trainer since 2010. In January, Jessie officially became the first full-time in-house athletic trainer at Latin. 

Education 

B.S. in Athletic Training - Purdue University
M.S. in Health Education & Promotion - University of Cincinnati

Position and years at Latin

Athletic Trainer - 10 years

Favorite Quote: 

"Today me will live in the moment, unless it's unpleasant, in which case me will eat a cookie." –Cookie Monster

What are your favorite things about Latin? 

There is such a close sense of community at Latin. One of my favorite things about working here is being able to connect with and get to know so many different people.

What are the best parts of your job? 

It’s rewarding to help kids through the rehabilitation process and then get to see them successfully return to their sport after experiencing an injury. I also love that every workday is different… it keeps me on my toes!

Why did you decide that you wanted to work at a school? 

I always found the idea of working at a school appealing because I knew it would give me the opportunity to be involved in so much more than just athletics. At Latin, I’m lucky enough to work with both athletics and our Latin 360 program. It’s also fun to be able to support our students in other ways, such as helping with senior projects or attending dance shows and plays.

What was the last good book you read? 

"American Dirt" by Jeanine Cummins

What are your hobbies and interests? 

I love spending time with my dog, Piper, playing fantasy football and following Purdue sports (Boiler Up!). I’m also excited to get back to traveling again once the pandemic is over.

What was your first job?

I worked as an Athletic Trainer for Women’s Lacrosse at the University of Cincinnati while in grad school, but working at Latin was my first “official” job after finishing school.

What’s your favorite place you’ve ever visited? 

Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada

What's the best advice you've ever heard?

Be present. Try not to focus on what happened in the past or what will happen in the future. Enjoy the “now.”

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US Chess Team  in the Learning Commons during the State Final

On February 12-13, the upper school chess team competed virtually in the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) state finals and finished in first place in Division 1A.
The students who represented Latin were Waleed B. '21, Matthew S. '21, Mark M. '21, William F. '21, Eli E. '23, Anton S. '23, Collin D. '22, and Maxwell L. '23. The tournament took place online, but participating teams had to play from the same location—the Romans competed from the upper school's Learning Commons. This is the first time in Latin history that the Romans have won the division title.

ABOUT THE UPPER SCHOOL CHESS TEAM: This academic team meets four times a week for practice and competes in the Chicago Chess Conference composed of catholic schools, including St. Ignatius, St. Patrick, De La Salle, Marist, Br. Rice, etc. After the conference play, they compete in sectionals. Then if they qualify, they play in the state championships.  

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Hopeful. Excited. Inspired. These are just some of the words that described the way students, faculty and staff felt after participating in the conversations and presentations during Latin’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Commemoration on Wednesday, January 20.

Upper school students began the morning at assembly with an inspirational rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by J. Rosamond Johnson and James Weldon Johnson sung by Latin’s upper school chorus. 

The assembly was anchored by the amplification of student voices answering thought-provoking questions. Upper school affinity groups, including Black Student Union (BSU), Latin American Student Organization (LASO), Chronic Illness and Disability Alliance (CIDA), LGBTQ+ Affinity, Asian Student Alliance (ASA) and White Identities and Anti-Racism Affinity (WIAA), discussed their answers to the question, “What would an equitable and inclusive community look like at Latin?”

Learn more about Latin’s institutional goals and action steps for DEI from Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Eleannor Maajid in this episode of the Latin Learner Podcast. Co-Head of LASO and junior at Latin Caroline C. ’22 echoed the sentiment that many affinity groups offered in their reflection of the question: “An inclusive and equitable community to me acknowledges that from the start this institution might look very different to new incoming students but makes an effort to make everyone aware that their culture shouldn’t define whether they speak up in class or not or be given looks down the halls. No one should be told to tone down their culture.”

The student groups also answered these questions: “Why is it vital for students to be able to organize? How do equity-focused student groups improve community and hold them accountable?” The upper school’s Student Diversity and Equity Committee (SDEC) and Demanding Accountability groups provided insight into this area. SDEC is dedicated to fostering a safe, inclusive environment at Latin and promotes dialogue across all perspectives. Demanding Accountability is a group focused on holding the Latin community accountable for creating the space that the community says they want Latin to be.

These student groups noted that student organizing is important because they have a relevant perspective with insight into injustices that sometimes only students can see. Co-head of Demanding Accountability Kazi S. ’22 was quoted during the presentation, “When students aim for equity, we can be the prosperity of not only ourselves but everyone around us.” When students aim for equity, we can be the prosperity of not only ourselves but everyone around us.
Kazi S. '22, Co-head of Demanding Accountability

In continuing with the assembly’s theme of amplifying student voices some of the other student groups that presented included Student Government, Identity Coalition for Latin (ICFL), “Discourses” and “The Forum.” An inspirational morning concluded with remarks from English Teacher and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator Brandon Woods: “We stand ready to listen to you, to partner with you and most importantly, to be challenged by you. You have the ability to make change that you might not even know yourselves, so we stand ready to help you do that and for you to guide us and lead us.”

During the middle school assembly, Educational Consultant Dr. Derrick Gay leveraged Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s iconic "What Is Your Life's Blueprint?" speech to frame Latin’s 2020 I can practice peace.
I can try again, rather than give up.
I can care for my community. 
Mindful affirmations from the book "I Can Do Hard Things" by Gabi Garcia
Middle School Climate Assessment findings. "The idea was to invite you to reflect on your life's blueprint, meaning who you are, your actions, your behaviors, your legacy, your purpose and how we can link your purpose to creating a more inclusive school... a more inclusive world," Dr. Gay explained to the students. He also noted that this speech was written by Dr. King for middle school students. Hear more about the history behind the speech and listen to an excerpt.


In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., lower school students engaged in various peace-related activities during the month of January. They also participated in an all-lower school read of “I Can Do Hard Things” by Gabi Garcia. As part of the MLK Day commemoration, students selected a personal photograph or designed an affirmation poster that connected to one of the following lines from the book:

  • “I can practice peace.” What is something peaceful you do for yourself or for others?
  • “I can try again, rather than give up.” What is something challenging (a “hard thing”) that you are learning to do or have learned to do? 
  • “I can care for my community.” What is something that reflects a way that you contribute to or care for your community?

At the lower school assembly, students listened to Dr. Gay read “I Can Do Hard Things” and then watched a video featuring the photos and student work.

Lower school students

Although the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Commemoration at Latin looked much different this year than in years past, students, faculty and staff found a sense of hope, excitement and inspiration from the day’s events.

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