‘We can do it’: It’s girl power at opening of LA’s first single-sex charter school
Mike Szymanski | August 8, 2016
More than 100 girls and their parents gathered last Thursday to sign up for the first all-girls charter middle school in LA Unified. They were nervous, excited and wary as they lined up to get their pink T-shirt emblazoned with “Power, Flexibility, Focus, Balance” on the front and “GALS” on the back.
GALS — short for the Girls Athletic Leadership School of Los Angeles — is based on a highly successful school in Denver which focuses on the physical, emotional and psychosocial needs of female adolescents.
“Welcome, it’s so good to see you,” said Carrie Wagner, the executive director who helped pass out papers that needed to be signed and was flanked by her teaching staff and a few board members. The girls then stood in line to get a breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausages, fruit and pancakes.
“I’m nervous,” a girl almost in tears told operations manager Kelly Snyder as they took a tour of the classrooms.
Snyder smiled back and put her hands on the girl’s shoulders and said, “I know, I am too.” The girl smiled and cheered up.
GALS is co-located at Vista Middle School on Roscoe Boulevard in Panorama City, in the heart of the San Fernando Valley. They have four classrooms on the second floor that were opened to the charter school staff only the day before the students came to tour the school. The host school’s principal greeted the new teachers with doughnuts to welcome them.
Wagner said the school has spaces for 20 more girls to reach their maximum capacity of 125. So far, the population of GALS is about 80 percent Latina, and 70 percent are low income, with more than half from the Panorama City area, but the rest coming from every corner of the Valley.
Same-sex schools are relatively new to LA Unified. The first all-girls district school, GALA, the Girls Academic Leadership Academy, is also opening this year on Aug. 16 as an all-girls middle and high school. There are two other traditional district schools specifically for pregnant students and young mothers, and Young Oak Kim Academy is a traditional middle school that has had boys and girls separated in classes since 2009. Next year, an all-boys district school will open, and GALS hopes to eventually ask for an all-boys charter school to open in LA Unified.
“I’m a little nervous, but excited, I think it will be a challenge,” said Hattie Weinroth, 10, who came to the orientation with her mom, dad and little sister, Chandler, who isn’t in school yet. “But, there are no boys here, yay!”
Her mother, Joya Weinroth, said, “This is an amazing time in history where we have the first female presidential candidate. It is great to have a place where girls can learn to use their voices.”
Weinroth also mentioned how Ava DuVernay of “Selma” fame became the first female director to recently get a movie with a $100-million budget for “A Wrinkle in Time.”
“Los Angeles has its share of sexism, and it’s changing,” Weinroth said. “I want my daughter to be a part of these things.”
It’s about a 25-minute drive one way to the school from where they live in Studio City, where Hattie attended an affiliated charter district school, Carpenter Community Charter. The decision to come to the all-girls school was completely Hattie’s decision.
“Hattie liked the idea that the school gives the chance for special help for students who may be falling behind in a certain subject,” such as math, Weinroth said.
The school bells for GALS will be different from the middle school that they are sharing space with, and the school day will start earlier and end later. Because exercise and movement are important to the school, every day will begin with warm-ups.
“The teachers all got together to do some movement,” Warner said. “The team that sweats together learns together.”
Wagner said research shows that young women attending all-girls schools have higher self-esteem and stronger academic performance, especially in math and science.
“I expect to get more interested in math and science,” said 11-year-old Lorelei Eberhart, who is entering 6th grade.
Her mother, Martina Eberhart, said an administrator from their charter elementary school, Our Community School, sent her daughter to the GALS school in Denver and loved it.
“We have followed the school for a few years as it was being created and wanted to go to a single-gendered school,” Martina said. “We liked the mission statement and how the focus is on movement and concentrating on math and science.”
English teacher Lauren Pinto and math and science teacher Michelle Acosta crowded more than 30 parents into a classroom during a tour. About a dozen were still outside in the hall.
“We can get everyone inside, keep moving up to the front,” Acosta said.
“We can get everyone in,” Pinto added. “GALS culture is, ‘We can do it,’ and this is the start of a new day for the school.”