Poly Works to Convey New Identity: ‘Diversity, Excellence, Brooklyn’


William Ling-Regan, Features Editor

One of the first things people see when walking through Poly Prep Country Day School’s front doors is a banner bearing the words “Diversity, Excellence, Brooklyn.” The banner first appeared last year and marked the quiet debut of Poly’s new “identity.” Before long, these words were heard throughout Poly, whether in Head of School Audrius Barzdukas’ speech at the beginning of the school year, in Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Erika Freeman’s speech during the first DEIB period, or scattered throughout the Poly website. But what do they really mean? 

According to Barzdukas, “Diversity, Excellence, Brooklyn is “our school’s identity, not a motto. Identity is a different thing. Identity is the answer to the question ‘what are you about?’” In his opinion, the identity serves to explain, “what matters to us, [and] to help us make decisions.” 



Diversity, the first pillar of the new identity, reflects the work of DEIB that Freeman is doing at Poly. To her, this pillar “says that we’re prioritizing the diversity of our community…Poly is recognizing that there are all these differences that have made their way into our school, and it’s important for them to be a part of our community.” She believes that diversity “is not a single thread, it’s what makes up the fabric of our school,” an ideal that is now expressed by making diversity the first pillar of the identity. Barzdukas agreed, claiming that “we aspire to be the most diverse school in the United States of America.” 

Barzdukas’ use of “aspire” echoes the opinions of some students, who feel that aspiration, more than reality, describes diversity’s role in Poly’s identity. Junior Sophia Chamorro said of the new identity, “it’s something to live up to, I think, especially the diversity part.” Meanwhile, the Polygon’s social media manager, junior Noah Saivetz, said that he “thinks the school is very diverse, but I think the way the school handles diversity is flawed,” pointing to some examples of Poly’s handling of past incidents of racism, sexism and homophobia. However, he also said that “Ms. Freeman has done a really great job, and that first [DEIB block] was fun.”  Both students agree, however, with Barzdukas and Freeman that diversity, or the aspiration to it, is an important characteristic of the school and one that the new identity now places front and center.



The second pillar, excellence, describes the school’s goal for achievement in all areas. Barzdukas elaborated on this part of the identity, calling it “the pursuit of excellence in academics, arts, and athletics. We are committed to the whole student experience. We want to hear about all three the same.” However, he noted that “I like the word ‘pursuit’ more than ‘excellence.’ Excellence is a destination. It’s a spot. Pursuit is the journey.” To him, just as with diversity, excellence is an aspiration of the school, something to be pursued. 

Freeman pointed out parallels between the first two pillars as well, saying that diversity is essential to excellence. She believes that “if someone doesn’t try to understand who a person is when they enter their classroom, they cannot possibly get the most out of that student. Knowing who kids are, knowing who your teachers are, [creates] a connection. When you feel a connection, you work harder.” Her goal is to make students of all backgrounds feel that connection so that they can pursue excellence in the classroom, in the studio, on the field, and anywhere else they go at Poly.



Finally, the third, and perhaps most controversial, pillar is Brooklyn. “Brooklyn is a vibe, Brooklyn is fun, Brooklyn is a part of our identity,” said Barzdukas. “We want to be the funnest school.” To some students, however, “Brooklyn” fails to accurately represent the Poly community. “I don’t get why we would add Brooklyn,” said junior Lauren Klein, who lives in Brooklyn. “If someone asked me to describe myself, I wouldn’t ever be like, ‘Brooklyn.’” Junior Seanna Sankar, the Online Managing Editor of the Polygon, who lives on Long Island, believes that the identity “is [made] less inclusive by stating ‘Brooklyn,’ because even though the school is in Brooklyn, we still have people coming from other boroughs, and even outside the boroughs to go to Poly.” 

Freeman, who also lives on Long Island, disagrees. She said, “We’re a Brooklyn school even though we come from all over the place…Even if you’re not from Brooklyn, if you’re from Manhattan or Staten Island, you’re still bringing you and all that you are to Brooklyn.” But to students like Klein, “even though the school is in Brooklyn and we’re shaped by that, and we have a gorgeous campus, it shouldn’t be how we identify ourselves. It’s just where we go. It’s a location, not an identification.”



The three pillars of this new identity caused some confusion among students when they first began to appear last year, for many had grown used to seeing the phrases “Mind, Body, Character” and “Virtus Victrix Fortunae” (Latin for “Virtue is the Conqueror of Fate”). Assistant Head of School for Strategic Initiatives Rebekah Sollitto clarified in an email to the Polygon that “Mind, Body, Character” is “a consolidation or reference for [Poly’s] longer mission statement,” while Barzdukus explained that  “Virtus Victrix Fortunae” is Poly’s motto, both of which are different from an “identity.” 

However, Poly’s identity of “Diversity, Excellence, Brooklyn” seems to be replacing both of these phrases around the school whether it’s digitally, physically, and verbally. Barzdukas says that this is because no one “really talks about [our mission statement] the way they do our identity. If you look at other schools’ missions, they kind of almost all look the same. Identity is what makes you different.” 

Sollitto agreed, writing, “It was important for us at Poly to develop our identity pillars of Diversity, Excellence and Brooklyn, because it allowed us to tell a more clear and unique story about who we are and what matters to us…in our presentations to our school community about who we are, we refer to ‘Mind, Body, Character’ much less often than ‘Diversity, Excellence, Brooklyn.’ ‘Diversity, Excellence, Brooklyn’ helps frame and guide messages about who we are and what we care about at Poly Poly.”

Some students, though, are nostalgic for the ubiquity of the old phrases. Sankar said, “the old one was kind of timeless. There wasn’t anything wrong with it and it wasn’t outdated in any way. ‘Mind, Body, Character.’ That’s so perfect.” Junior Hank Schilling feels the same, as he said, “where did ‘character’ go? Poly has lost an integral part of its meaning.” Chamorro, on the other hand, feels that both “Diversity, Excellence, Brooklyn” and “Mind, Body, Character” describe an overly idealized version of the school, and “neither really represents Poly.” However, to her, the identity demonstrates Poly’s goals, as she said “I think [the identity] is a future thing. I like that they’re trying to switch it up a bit.” 

Both Sollitto and Freeman looked to Poly’s changes as well when considering the new identity, and saw it as a more accurate representation of the school’s evolving identity. Sollitto wrote, “Poly has undergone some significant changes over the past 5+ years that were intentional: enrollment has gone up, annual giving has gone up, admissions applications have skyrocketed, gaining admission is more competitive and our population of students and teachers is significantly more racially/ethnically diverse. We believe that part of what makes our community so strong is clarity around who we are and what matters to us: ‘Diversity, Excellence, Brooklyn’ is a clear consolidation of that identity.” 

To Freeman, these changes reflect that “times have changed, school has changed; we are definitely not the place that we were when we started. It’s gotten better in so many ways. Perhaps this [identity] better reflects what our school community is.” 

While “Mind, Body, Character” and “Virtus Victrix Fortunae” might describe the individuals at Poly, the new identity aims to describe the community as a whole. “Maybe [Diversity, Excellence, Brooklyn] is not about the individual,” said Freeman. “Maybe it’s about who we are: Poly.”