Parker Beladino was selected, along with four classmates from New Canaan Country School, to attend the Student Diversity Leadership conference in Philadelphia on Dec. 1 to 3. Beladino was chosen based on his involvement with diversity initiatives at the school.

"The students were excited about the opportunity to share and learn about inclusion and diversity with 1,500 other students from across the country," said Paul Mayo, Director of Diversity at New Canaan Country School. Helping students to learn about cultural differences and demonstrate compassion is integral to the school's mission.

Hosted by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), the Student Diversity Leadership Conference is a multiracial, multicultural gathering of upper school student leaders in grades 9 to 12 from around the country. Participants examine issues of social justice, develop effective cross-cultural communication skills, practice expression through the arts and learn networking principles and strategies.

Belladino was deeply affected by his experience meeting some of the other students at the conference.

"During the `Silent Movement,' all 1,500 of us were in a big ballroom. The leaders called out for people with different cultural `indentifiers' (race/ethnicity/gender) to stand up," he said. "Only three people stood up who identified as transgender. I was astounded by their bravery. People who are used to being alone are not alone."

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Now in its 18th year, The Student Diversity Leadership Conference encourages young participants to apply the leadership principles they develop within their own communities after the conference. The students from Country School were moved by the stories shared by their peers, which led them to examine their own assumptions about people from different races, ethnicities and genders.

Kevin Pendo learned a lot from the event.

"I learned to value every individual as being unique. Difference is not a bad thing! It is important to respect everyone; everyone deserves to be happy and no one should be able to take away their happiness because of their race or sexual orientation," he said.

To hear more about the students' experiences at the conference, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4_nJdJ0qe4.

The students were chosen by their response with a short essay about their experience at Country School as it relates to its mission statement on diversity:

The school is committed to the development of compassionate people who value, accept, and respect diversity. Our school community strives to create an inclusive environment in which each member feels comfortable and accepted; an environment in which differences and commonalities are appreciated in equal measure.

Concurrent with SDLC, was the larger People of Color Conference. Country School has been an active participate in this program for 17 years. Attending this year were Tim Bazemore, Head of School; Tim Delehaunty, Head of Upper School; Paul Mayo, Director of Diversity; Nicole Victor, Director of Placement; Mollie Kirkland, first grade teacher; Annabelle Alt, beginners assistant; David Kucher, learning resource teacher and Country School alum, Carl Brodnax, coach; and PE teacher.

New Canaan Country School is an independent school serving 649 students from lower Fairfield County from beginners through ninth grade. For more information about diversity at Country School, visit www.countryschool.net/Diversity.