GALA opens, history is made at L.A. High

| September 1, 2016 | 0 Comments
HUNDREDS of students, parents and community leaders attend the Aug. 12 opening of the city’s first all-girls public school.

HUNDREDS of students, parents and community leaders attend the Aug. 12 opening of the city’s first all-girls public school.

The first lady of Los Angeles, Amy Elaine Wakeland, was among the guest speakers at the Aug. 12 opening ceremony for the first single-gender school within the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).

“We are making history this morning,” Wakeland proclaimed to a crowd of nearly 300 students, parents and LAUSD supporters.

The Girls Academic Leadership Academy (GALA), located in a separate building on the campus of Los Angeles High School, is for girls 6th through 12th grade, and is designed to bolster interest in the “STEM” fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Wakeland told the crowd that she often wonders what the environment of an all-girls school might have been like for her as a young student.

“When I was in middle and high school I had a lot of responsibilities outside of my homework, as I know many girls in this room do.

“I was concerned for my siblings, and I was worried about how my mother would cover the rent. I often raced from school to sports to jobs and then back home again to do my homework,” she said.

Even after graduating at the top of her class, Wakeland said she had serious doubts she would ever get a college degree. “Would my family need me? Would I be able to afford it? Would I be able to succeed in a college environment because the high school I had gone to was not an exemplary one?”

Even as a sophomore in college, Wakeland says she struggled financially and was worried her mother needed her at home. Then a couple of her professors approached the administration and helped her secure more financial aid.

“Those folks asked me not to give up on college. They believed in me, and they showed me that they believed I belonged where I was. That support made all the difference — it gave me the confidence to soar.”

It is this kind of support that GALA’s founder and principal, Liz Hicks, had in mind when she embarked five years ago on a project to establish an environment exclusively devoted to the education of young women.

“It started with a question. Why can’t we? And because of that simple question, we are here today,” Hicks told the crowd.

A longtime LAUSD educator and mother of two, Hicks said she didn’t know anything about all-girls education until her daughter Katrina asked if she could apply to go to Marlborough School.

“She was very lucky to receive a scholarship from Marlborough because it is quite out of the economic realm of most people,” said Hicks. “But it became the basis for me asking ‘why.’ Why can’t we do this for girls in a free setting in LAUSD?”

An all-girls education, according to Hicks, creates a culture of academic achievement and improves self-confidence and leadership skills. Such schools graduate 30 percent more females than those in co-ed settings, and they send 50 percent more graduates to college.

LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King, also a guest speaker, praised Hicks’ tenacity in establishing the campus in spite of being told “no” four or five times.

“Finally we are able to provide this opportunity,” said King. “An opportunity that has been reserved for the select few who’ve been able to afford it.”

King also announced that LAUSD has plans to open an all-boys school on the campus of Washington Preparatory High School next year.

Other guests at the event included State Senator Holly Mitchell, Dr. Ann McElaney-Johnson, president of Mount Saint Mary’s University, Steve Zimmer, president of LAUSD Board, and board member Dr. George McKenna.

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