Creating a Cross-City Exchange Between Catlin Gabel and De La Salle

By Christina Spires ’16

At Catlin Gabel, the last week of February is dedicated to discussing diversity, through events such as the annual Diversity Conference, and the Black History Month assembly.

Following the theme of celebrating and learning more about diversity, on Feb. 23, 13 Catlin Gabel students visited De La Salle North Catholic to attend their Black History Month assembly.

Welcoming entrance at De La Salle North Catholic. (Photo: Dedaes McGautha '18)

Welcoming entrance at De La Salle North Catholic. (Photo: Dedaes McGautha ’18)

During their time on De La Salle’s campus, Catlin Gabel students visited classes to experience a different model of a private school education such as student-teacher relationships, homework load policies, and social setting. These classes were followed by the Black History Month assembly with its lively performances and powerful speakers. Before heading back to campus, Catlin Gabel students engaged in a discussion regarding privilege and diversity, finishing with a privilege walk activity.

“In my opinion, compared to Catlin, De La Salle North Catholic is much better prepared and comfortable when having conversations centered around race, ethnicity and privilege as its student body is far more diverse,” says Tristan Furnary ’16. “Just spending one day at De La Salle taught me a ton and I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue the school to school exchange.”

This was not the first time Catlin Gabel students have visited De La Salle, as this exchange has been running for four years.

“This exchange between Catlin and De La Salle was born from a Winterim 2012 activity led by Kassamira Carter and Qiddist Hammerly,” says Roberto Villa, a Spanish teacher here at Catlin Gabel. “The idea was to visit a few private schools in the greater Portland area and learn about their efforts in the area of diversity. Among the schools that we visited was De La Salle North Catholic. At the end of Winterim it became clear that DLS was a very special and unique school. When we were there we felt very welcomed and included, and it did not take long for Catlin students to connect and befriend their hosts. In fact, two months later, we invited those same students to our school.”

When Carter and Hammerly graduated, Villa felt that it was important to preserve connections and conversations, as both schools could learn from one another, and decided to continue the exchange.

“As an educator I believe that we need to provide our students the opportunity to engage in internal and external conversations with their peers about important issues such as race, ethnicity, economics (social injustice) and gender identity,” says Villa. “The conversations that we’ve had with De La Salle students and teachers have been very productive, fruitful and honest.”

The fruitfulness of conversation can be attributed to the demographics of their student body. At De La Salle, 80 percent of the student body are people of color and 88 percent are either Catholic or Christian, which is completely opposite of Catlin Gabel’s make up of only 34 percent of students being people of color. Differences such as these create conversations where different life experiences and opinions are represented.

Unfortunately, due to medical leave, Villa was not able to plan and facilitate visits during the 2014-2015 school year, resulting in lost contact between the two schools.

Luckily, students from both Catlin Gabel and De La Salle were able to connect, and take charge in efforts to revive the lost relationship.

One of the students that took leadership in planning this exchange was Tyler White, a sophomore at De La Salle. White is involved in other programs with Catlin, such as the PLACE program and I Love This Place PDX with George Zaninovich. White is passionate about issues regarding diversity and equality on a societal scale like gentrification and affordable housing in his home of North Portland.

“It is important for both school communities to experience the different environments from with both hail– one being of general prestige and privilege and another diversity and opportunity,” says White, speaking to the differences between De La Salle and Catlin Gabel. “By conducting this exchange, there is a level of stigma and preconceived notion dismantled. That is the overall goal– to understand and accept the perspective each of us has, while creating awareness and action to spark the equal exchange of what both school brings.”

As a sophomore, White is looking to expand the exchange in the next couple years by coming up with more activities for Catlin Gabel and De La Salle students to come together aside from sporting events.

“The hope is to start doing something,” says White. “What that something is, I have no idea. But there needs to be an equilibrium of understanding, awareness and action”

Looking towards the future of this exchange, Villa is also optimistic, and hopes to see significant growth in coming years.

“As this exchange continues I hope to see more conversations develop that will also include the faculty. In fact, De La Salle is now a participant in our PLACE program, and conversations are taking place on an administrative level,” says Villa.

Although both schools are different in terms of racial and socioeconomic diversity, students can use these differences to harbor a relationship and continue peer to peer education through conversation.