Don Mills

Local Catholic school named second most diverse elementary school in Ithaca

Immaculate Conception School, a Catholic grade school in Ithaca N.Y., is the most diverse private institution and second most diverse of the 10 elementary schools in Tompkins County this year.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics in the United States, 30 percent of students in grades pre-K to 6 at the school have been reported to be a race other than white. This is the highest rate of diversity for private elementary schools in Ithaca and Tompkins County.

Compared to the public schools in Tompkins County, however, Beverly J. Martin Elementary School is the most diverse elementary school in the county with 52 percent of its students a race other than white.

Elizabeth Ann Clune Montessori School reported 17 percent of the student body is a race other than white while Ithaca Montessori School’s reported three out of nine kindergarten students are a race other than white.

Don Mills, principal of Immaculate Conception, began working at the school in July, 2013. He said the diverse student body can be attributed to families from other countries seeking higher education and word of mouth.

“Our program is easily searchable online,” Mills said. “And people hear about the music program at Ithaca College. It becomes great word of mouth advertising and it self-perpetuates.”

Because of this, families from China, Korea and New Zealand who have moved from their home countries enroll their children in Immaculate Conception school over the public school system.

Immaculate Conception, located at 320 West Buffalo St. in Ithaca N.Y., maintains a diverse student body, drawing in families from Singapore, Korea and New Zealand

After moving from Singapore to Ithaca, Darren Oh enrolled his triplets in Immaculate Conception’s Pre-K and Kindergarten programs. His children, Yu An, Joy and Dawn, are all five years old, but Dawn was held back a grade to receive developmental therapy.

Even though they are brand new to the school Oh said his children are adjusting well and Dawn has already been through intensive therapy sessions.

“We only started school here last week and they love it so far,” Oh said. “They look forward to coming here everyday. We are happy that we found the school here.”

Irene Kim, resident of Ithaca, is the guardian of her niece Yenny, who traveled from Korea to study 5th grade at Immaculate Conception. Kim said her niece is very satisfied with the classes and has enjoyed her time at the school so far.

The hands-on experience with different ethnicities at the school are valuable to the students’ learning and understanding, said Ladeen Case, who has been teaching at Immaculate Conception since 1989, and has had students from Africa and New Zealand in her classroom.

“We live in a pretty diverse world so this is like real life experiences for the kids that they see and hear things that they wouldn’t necessarily get to see or hear if they were at home,” she said.

New to the program, Margaret Henry is in her first year of teaching at Immaculate Conception. She said she can’t say why the families chose the school, however she attributes the strong Catholic values and the widely accepting community.

Henry said she believes diversity is important to Immaculate Conception, and the greater community as a whole.

“It shows that our community is larger than just the catholic faith and that it doesn’t matter your race or ethnicity or faith, but we come together and those are the values that are taught, that we all have something to give and we all have special gifts and we teach them those values,” Henry said.

This is just one of the aspects that made Jessica Cuddy enroll her two daughters, Lara and Gabrielle, in Immaculate Conception. After moving from New Zealand, Cuddy and her family took a tour of Immaculate Conception and immediately fell in love with it. Cuddy is very happy with their decision and sees this everyday.

“School has been really important to them because we don’t have any family here,” she said. “It has been a big part of who they are.”

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