Jill Leahy, the Associate Director of Diversity and Community, is one of the newest members of the UPrep staff, having arrived in mid-August after working at the Seattle nonprofit Communities In Schools. Describing her time so far as a “fun adventure,” Jill is thrilled to be back in a school setting, working directly with students as an advisor, mentor, and coach.
What is your role at UPrep?
I am the Associate Director of Diversity and Community. I support student clubs as an advisor, including the Middle School Gender and Sexuality Alliance, Umbrella, the affinity group for all students of color, and the Multicultural Student Association (MSA) as well as the Upper School’s LatinX affinity group and Umbrella. I also support the Rainier Scholars program and work with the mentors, as well as the Middle and Upper School community service programs. I am a 6th grade advisor and excited to also be the D3 Girls Basketball coach this year!
What brought you to UPrep?
Coming to University Prep was about being back in a school setting and working more directly with students. I missed being in schools and getting to build consistent and authentic relationships with students, faculty, and teachers.
I was drawn to UPrep because it is a social justice-focused school with a diversity office. In a predominantely white institution, I know that students, especially people of color and LGBTQ+ students, experience micro-aggressions on a regular basis. (Micro-aggressions are small aggressions that happen in every day interactions that people may not recognize as aggressions, which continue to perpetuate systems that oppress and marginalize groups of people.) It was important to me to work in a school to support students who might be experiencing this and continue to build space for students to feel heard and seen.
I was drawn to UPrep because of its desire to continue to challenge systems that oppress marginalized groups. I was impressed with the school’s willingness to continually look inward, at not just what we are doing, but at what we are not doing. I was impressed with the work that the school has already done around diversity, equity, and inclusion and the creation of the Diversity Strategic Plan.
Where did you previously work?
I previously worked at Communities In Schools of Seattle in partnership with Seattle Public Schools. Communities In Schools is a dropout prevention program that brings resources and volunteers into schools to help struggling students get back on track. I supported five schools in southeast Seattle (98118!) and collaborated with the school district, community partners, and other community-based organizations. I also worked with a Seattle Parks and Recreation’s program, Herman@s Unid@s, which is a LatinX affinity group at Aki Kurose Middle School.
What have been some of your favorite UPrep moments so far this year?
I have had so many great moments so far! I loved having the opportunity to run a Diversity and Community Retreat, which was open to all students where we played Bubble Ball. It was fun to watch students from grades 6 through 12 play together, build leadership skills, and create new relationships. My other favorite memory was being with the 6th grade during the fall overnight camp, watching them begin to build relationships, discover new things about UPrep, and work as a team.
Who is a leader (current or a historical figure) you admire? Why?
I admire Erin Okuno who is the Executive Director of the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC). Her work and advocacy to continue to create equitable education for students of color in southeast Seattle is inspiring and transformative. She continues to build relationships and create change to ensure that Seattle provides the best for all students. She’s AWESOME!
UPrep recently rolled out a new communications framework that amplifies our mission based on three key words: Include, Invent, and Inspire. How do you see these words come to life in our community?
The word “include” is seen everywhere at UPrep. Whether it is in the Lower Commons during lunch, in Advisory or in a classroom, you get to watch students create and build relationships and grow. You also see this from the staff and faculty.
I think of “invent” in all the unique programming that happens at UPrep--Intensives, Global Link trips, and the new curriculum. I also see students inventing new clubs and groups.
I am consistently inspired by students, faculty, and staff, and each person’s individual passion. I have already learned so much about the community, and about myself, including how to deal with adversity and how to help different groups work together.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I spend a lot of time outside like many Seattleites. I’m a fan of hiking, and paddle boarding during all times of the year. I also enjoy woodworking and carpentry. It’s fun to learn to build new things. My favorite activity is to go on picnics! They can happen indoors or outdoors, but I love sitting down and sharing food, good conversation, and fun!