When Jesus answers the question “Who is my neighbor?” in the parable of the Good Samaritan, he challenges us to think not simply of that person who looks like us, or who lives next door to us, or who drives the same sort of car we do. He challenges us to move beyond those visible connections and to look for “connections in diversity.”
In light of this parable Bethany School embodies “neighborliness” by providing a safe and caring environment for children and their families with various backgrounds. This practice has resulted in making Bethany unique in Cincinnati schools and among the 1,200 Episcopal schools nationwide, and also serves as a model for the diocesan community of Southern Ohio for how differences that may draw people apart can actually bring people together in the spirit of neighborliness that transcends boundaries.
In May I chaperoned the eighth-grade class on its annual trip to Washington, D.C. Bethany School students eagerly await this opportunity from their earliest years. Whether it’s the actual sites they visit in Washington D.C. or the long bus ride to and from our nation’s capital, or the fun they experience staying with each other in the hotel, this trip is an important event that glues a class together as they prepare for graduation and life beyond.
The second morning of the trip I watched the first students arrive at the breakfast buffet at the hotel. The table filled up over a ten-minute period as students sleepily arrived in the dining area. Three boys and three girls sat at one table. Justin, Lucy, Chris, Alexa, Kristen and Krishna ate their breakfast and joked with each other. The students’ ethnic diversity encapsulated the powerful significance of a Bethany School education. At one table, these students represented ethnic heritages from Africa, Europe, Asia and India. The amazing thing is that this is not unusual at Bethany School.
From its very start the school has been diverse in the ethnic makeup of the student body in addition to a significant socio-economic and religious diversity woven into the mix. Today the student body is just under 50% African American, 35% European American, and healthy representations of students with Hispanic, Asian and multiracial backgrounds. Although students predominantly come from Christian traditions, denominational affiliation varies widely, along with students who identify as Hindu, Muslim or no religious identity. Episcopalians make up only a small number of families. But, it is the distinctly neighborly attitude that attracts families to Bethany, and it is this neighborliness that lies at the heart of Episcopal belief and practice.
For many of us, going to school in our childhood meant walking down the street and going to the neighborhood school. Although we may have received a wonderful education in academics, we also may not have had the opportunity to expand our horizons in connecting with students outside of our immediate neighborhood or outside of our cultural or ethnic or socioeconomic or religious community. In the interconnected world that we live in it is that much more vital that we seek those opportunities to overcome our differences simply through such everyday activities as going to school.
As Bethany School prepares to embark on an ambitious building project to update its campus, it is also important that the bricks and mortar reflect the history of diversity that has permeated this community in such profound ways for so many generations of students and their families. Even now the school continues to seek out and to embody the true nature of what it means to be a neighborhood school. For a student at Bethany School, my neighbor may live in a totally different part of Cincinnati than where I reside. My neighbor may eat different foods at home than I do. My neighbor may worship in a different manner than I am used to. My neighbor may have a different skin color than I do. But, as members of the Bethany School community, my neighbor and I are a part of a beloved family that seeks strength in its diversity.
David Gould serves as Assistant Head of School at Bethany School. You can contact him at email@example.com.