Financial Aid Creates a Stronger School

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By Lark P. Palma, head of school

From the Fall 2011 Caller

Catlin Gabel’s long-term plan states that developing diversity of all kinds, including economic diversity, is an imperative.  Our school has long been committed to financial aid, but now we are deepening that commitment in many ways, including the campaign to raise significant support for financial aid. Accessibility is the dream we pursue.
The pages of this magazine are brimming with evidence of why different perspectives enrich learning and how we are attempting to capture a whole new universe of students through new financial aid and scholarship programs.
This year 26% of our students receive some amount of financial assistance. We would like to do more. Sometimes, we cannot offer enough; sometimes, families don’t apply because they think the school is beyond their financial reach. Our school community has come to a greater awareness of the importance of attracting students from all over the local area who will contribute to our community intellectually, emotionally, socially, artistically, and athletically.
Independent schools have certainly learned from colleges, which award generous financial assistance. But in independent schools, usually only about ten percent of students awarded aid need full financial assistance—which means that their students come from an incomplete continuum of life experiences. I think of so many students whose families thought Catlin Gabel was out of reach until they were coaxed to take a second look, or those who worked through family hardships to attend. Catlin Gabel must have the resources to matriculate any student—regardless of resources—who demonstrates a match with the values of our school and our goals for every student.
As teachers and parents, we want our students to feel like part of our communities, and by extension, the rest of the world. This is why we strive to build a culture where everyone from every part of town, with various talents, and from varying economic and social backgrounds, can come for a great education. In an atmosphere of community, relationships, and respect, all students can find their space for growth.
We have the fertile soil for this garden to grow. We are succeeding as much as we can, with the resources we have, in bringing phenomenal students from every corner of Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, and Clark Counties and beyond. But we want to do more. We need to do more.
A student once said to me, “I feel completely at home here because I have access to what every other student has. I have a laptop, I can go on a trip, I can have my textbooks, a choir dress, and bus tickets. I don’t feel left out or discouraged by my family’s economics. I have the same opportunities as all the other students. I know I will succeed.”
Her words, and the successes I see in our students and alumni, continue to inspire me as I lead this charge. Through funds for financial aid and thoughtful admission practices, which you’ll read about in this issue, we forge a stronger Catlin Gabel. With focus and determination we continually create and re-create a learning community of the brightest minds, who bring character, diversity, and substance to their classes and enhance all our lives.