“I know who I am.
I pay attention to what I feel.
I know that I matter.”
On the first day of school, girl power was reaching new heights among the 100 sixth graders reciting their school pledge at Girls Athletic Leadership School of Los Angeles (GALS LA).
As the first all-girls school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the Panorama City-based charter school was built on a unique model: Students are empowered to use their voices, embrace teamwork and self-advocate within a STEM-based program that integrates movement and wellness into their daily curriculum.
“[GALS] is not about being prim and proper, but about being authentic and understanding what you can bring to the world,” says Carrie Wagner, executive director of GALS LA.
GALS LA adheres to the standards and guidelines of LAUSD, but the differences in day-to-day routines are significant. The dress code includes athletic shoes and T-shirts with shorts, yoga pants or leggings. Every day begins with a 40-minute school-wide warm-up session of yoga, cardio training or mindfulness, and classes incorporate short, movement-based “brain breaks.”
“If you have a body, you’re an athlete,” explains Wagner. “In the middle of class, students will get up and move around, like doing the ‘fraction dance’ during math. Our belief is if you take these little breaks, you’ll do better academically.”
It’s more than a theory, as evidenced by the flagship GALS that opened in Denver in 2010. As the only all-girls public school in Colorado, the school has skyrocketed to the top 10 of Denver’s public high schools in academic growth, outperforming the district and state in all subjects. Part of the inspiration for GALS came from the book, “Learning Like a Girl: Educating Our Daughters in Schools of Their Own,” by Diana Meehan, who co-founded The Archer School for Girls in West Los Angeles. The idea of “learning like a girl” suggests that girls benefit – academically and socially – from an all-female environment where they’re encouraged by other women to speak up, collaborate and support one another.
In its inaugural year, the tuition-free GALS LA has already drawn a diverse group of girls from all over the San Fernando Valley. The school, which still has space available for students this year, will expand next year to its full capacity of 250 sixth- and seventh-grade girls. The ultimate goal is to open an all-girls high school and all-boys middle and high schools.
Check out this video of GALS LA First Week of School.