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September 01, 2020

AHA Works to Bolster Cultural Proficiency; Self-study Launched

The Holy Angels community is working to improve cultural proficiency, and has launched a related Middle States-approved self-study. The ability to respect and honor the cultural, economic, religious, racial, and gender identification of others aligns with the Academy’s mission to educate young women who recognize the dignity of all persons and promote justice and peace.


“The administration has been taking training in equity and inclusion, and everyone will be training in small groups throughout the year. This is a priority for the school,” AHA President Melinda Hanlon told the faculty and staff at the start of the 2020-21 academic year. “We are also seeking a director of diversity and inclusion.”


This spring, AHA opted to focus its self-study on cultural proficiency. Middle States Coordinators Gail Fair and Nadine Behrens reported that the Middle States Association approved this topic at the end of August.


“We must challenge students and community members to be independent critical thinkers on social issues that affect our lives and that perpetuate racism and all biases in our society,” Fair and Behrens shared in their report.


The in-depth look at cultural proficiency will include stakeholder surveys, a self-assessment, a review of research questions, and action plans. These initiatives will be enacted within the Academy, and a colloquium will be held during the 2024-25 school year. AHA’s renewed accreditation would extend through December 1, 2028.


Members of the IDEAL Council also spoke at the staff meeting. This group faculty, staff, and administrators has been examining implicit bias, white privilege, and racism with Diana Artis from Olive Branch Educators since the group was established in 2019. As the 2020 election approaches, the council is planning to moderate conversations to ensure that people are heard and included. Council member Jennifer Cucchisi noted that the 2016 election presidential election highlighted concerns about diversity and inclusion in the school.

In 2018, the AHA community explored implicit bias with Dr. Brandy Garlic. Last fall, the Academy established IDEAL, a group of adults who focus on inclusivity.


As the 2020 election approaches, the school community will discuss the impact of the 2016 presidential election, explore the value of unity, and find ways to maintain unity amidst disagreements. Students will learn about the election process, and will have time to discuss their reactions to the election results.


IDEAL Council members include Dean of Students Andréa Beyer, Dean of Academics Francesca Tambone-Puzio, Alyssa Cataldo, Joan Connelly, Jennifer Cucchisi, Laura Kraytem, Brianna Portuesi, Kathy Sylvester, Jennifer Trubac, Kathleen Walsh, and Theresa Young.


AHA is beginning the new academic year with a handbook that includes an updated antidiscrimination policy that affirms the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion as integral elements of the AHA community and education.


“We believe that each person is created in the image of God, and we commit ourselves to foster an awareness that impels us to act in the interests of equity and justice for all,” the policy states. Anyone who has witnessed or experienced discrimination or harassment is urged to contact the dean of students for an investigation.


Founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1879, the Academy of the Holy Angels is the oldest private girls’ school in Bergen County. While AHA is steeped in Catholic tradition, this prestigious high school serves young women from a broad spectrum of cultural and religious backgrounds. Over time, thousands of women have passed through AHA’s portals. Many go on to study at some of the nation’s best universities, earning high-ranking positions in medicine, government, law, education, public service, business, arts, and athletics. The Academy’s current leaders continue to further the SSND mission to provide each student with the tools she needs to reach the fullness of her potential—spiritually, intellectually, socially, and physically, by offering a first-rate education in a nurturing environment where equal importance is placed on academic excellence, character development, moral integrity, and service to others.