Student Voices: On Unity by Ciela Diffenbaugh

There is truth in the argument that Mount Madonna School is a breath of fresh air against the contamination of the outside world. There was a weight held on my shoulders in my time at public school that came from knowing the financial crises of my peers. In my school district, 18.5 % of our children qualify as homeless, and 64.9% qualified for free and reduced lunch. Though I grew up in an economically stable family, the knowledge of what my peers and friends were struggling with never left me, and this made me question my right to the security that money bought.

For money did buy security, and when the pandemic hit, my opportunity to enroll at Mount Madonna School. More than anything, it was a chance at an in-person education, when everyone else was struggling remotely. We are some of the few with the privilege to experience in-person education. Now that I have experienced both public and private school,

I have noticed in life that private school kids often get praised for being better behaved, more hard-working, and more serious students than public school students. This does not always come from bad intentions. At Mount Madonna, people try to build us up. Teachers praise us for the purpose of validating our intelligence, granting us encouragement, and motivating us to have big dreams. The trouble is when people are tempted to compare us to public school students. For example, talking about behavior problems at public schools, or listing assignments they don’t believe public schools would be able to accomplish. It is personal for me; because I grew up at a public school, these comparisons belittle me distinctively. I am the student I am today because of that system’s influence.

This comparison reinforces stereotypes of both private school and public school students. No one wants to feel superior. When we are constantly told that we are superior to another group, it hurts our ability to connect to others, and it forces struggle on our conception of our social identities. It makes public school kids feel inferior, because they know how they appear to the outside world- lesser than other schools. More than anything, it separates us into two groups, and contributes to the polarization of both. When this division is created in our youth, it is hard to unite into one cohesive population, and harder still to maintain peace in a world where alienation is practiced from childhood.

I encourage teachers at Mount Madonna School to be mindful of the impact their words have on us. Praise us because we are exceptional by our own standards, instead of comparing us to the stereotypes we have of other schools. Nurture us in a way that validates all systems, and acknowledges the strengths that both systems bring to the children of our society. In practicing this, we will create a world in which low-income public school students will no longer be looked down upon. Possibility, for everyone, will flourish.


Ciela Diffenbaugh is a sophomore at Mount Madonna School. Her essay was first published in the school’s student newspaper, the “Mount Madonna Sentinel” edition eight, March 2021.


Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, director of marketing & communications,

Nestled among the redwoods on 375 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a diverse learning community dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believe a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979.


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