Growing Up

GALS plans for expansion in and out of Denver

The Girls Athletic Leadership School (GALS), an all-girls charter school in West Denver, has plans to grow both in Denver and in cities across the country.

The Los Angeles Unified School District will vote later this month on whether to open a brand-new GALS middle school in 2016, and GALS’ leadership in Denver is researching the possibility of opening an all-boys school in Denver.

GALS opened in Denver in 2010. The school currently enrolls 280 students — all girls — in grades 6 through 9, and plans to eventually enroll 600 students in middle and high school. GALS is in the midst of doubling the size of its school building.

Plans for an all-boys school in Denver are still in early stages, but a new task force assembled by the school’s leadership and board is studying the possibility.

Chalkbeat talked with GALS founder Liz Wolfson about why the school is considering expanding, the purpose of an all-boys school, and more. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Why an all-boys school?

There are practical reasons and then there are philosophical reasons.

GALS was founded on an assumption that we can create a more civil society in the world by ensuring that as many young women as possible understand that they have access to all opportunities and that we can break the clear ceilings that exist in all industries for women.

Philosophically, you can’t change society by only working on women. The philosophy of GALS is based on healthy relationships.

There’s a clear, direct path from education to behavior and relationships that create a more dynamic, inclusive society. This is just our piece of adding our choice option to portfolio of schools that exist.

What boys deal with in schools is just as sensational as what’s going on for girls, in terms of achievement in schools but most importantly in terms of who they are in the world. The messages boys are receiving through public culture today are really disempowering. They need real attention in terms of knowing who they are and feeling that they matter just as they are.

Practically, now that GALS has developed this strong program around health, wellness, and gender, one could argue that a boy doesn’t have that choice, especially with Sims-Fayola [an all-boys public school in the district] closing.

Why does that learning for boys and girls have to take place in a single-gender environment? 

We’re honoring the journey of adolescence, so each gender has a chance to fully become themselves before they go into the natural organic stages of socialization, romance, interconnectedness.

It’s about honoring the reality that our public culture hypersexualizes boys and girls and hyperinflates issues of who you’re supposed to be based on a girl in a bikini and a guy watching football. The idea’s to slow that down and allow boys and girls to figure out who they are first…

All we’re saying is, we want healthy interaction, but most importantly we want kids to know who they are.

What’s most important for boys is not always the same as what’s important for girls. Empowerment isn’t the issue, it’s about finding your voice and recognizing that you don’t have to be Superman to be valued and impactful.

What are your plans for expansion outside of Denver? 

We’re in the process of putting together our strategic plan for national expansion. The vision from the get-go was to be in four or five distinct geographic regions across the country, with the idea that we want to put out a next generation of girls who have been through our schooling.

We’re not looking to expand like KIPP, or to dominate a single city. We’re looking to hit the discourse around equity around the country.

We’re not going to be a CMO [charter management organization] like DSST or STRIVE, where there’s a central office. It will be a series of place-based organizations, and the directors of each will be on the board of the national GALS.

There are a number of cities we’re interested in: Baton Rouge, Rhode Island, Indianapolis, Seattle Tacoma. We believe it’s not about whether we’re interested, it’s what’s going on locally and do we have the leadership to make it happen.

What does your staff look like? Are your teachers mostly female?

I think our staff looks like every staff. The research shows it’s important to put role models of every shape color and age in front of students.

One thing is that we want role models of different ages. The idea that you can continually fill staff with just 23-year-olds…the bottom line is, a 23-year old has a different perspective than a 45-year-old. We want both. We also look for diversity of staff to match the kids in the school.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.