Friday, May 28, 2010

GALS - Girls Athletic Leadership School

There is a new school opening in Denver that is sure to be a success. It is a Denver public charter school serving girls in 6th-12th grade with the expeditionary learning framework. I have had the pleasure of speaking with several of the schools leaders, including Liz Wolfson (founder and Head of School) and Nina Safane (Director of New Schools Development) and they were happy to share more about their school with me.

How was the idea for this school born?  

Liz Wolfson created the concept for GALS out of an innate desire to help girls find their voices. She spent most of her adult life implementing visions as a consultant for CEOs, philanthropists, politicians and corporations, and then realized what she wanted to do was implement a vision of her own. After reading and researching and talking to folks in the education world, she realized that a girls' school grounded in mind-body development could offer young woman the opportunity to access the skills and knowledge to be leaders of their own lives as well as the world. It would allow a space where they could find that this path was their birthright. And she realized that this choice was not yet available to parents.

Why just girls?  What is the value of separating the genders?

Girls' schools demonstrate wildly successful academic achievement across the country. They provide girls the opportunity to step up in leadership roles, to take risks, and to focus on their academics. Graduates of girls' schools have bigger visions of the world and their own path within it. For GALS specifically, a girl-only environment allows us to focus on how girls learn as well as issues particularly relevant to their development and address them in ways that foster leadership, global responsibility, and positive self-image building.
Explain the importance of engaging health and wellness in education, especially in an urban setting?

GALS draws on health and wellness as a key contributing factor to success in education. At our school this plays out in a number of ways as we consider the whole child on the path to academic success and personal development. We draw on the brain science behind engaging in physical activity/movement before a student's most difficult classes in order to stimulate the neurological and behavioral connections between the brain and the body. We supplement this with the use of active and engaged teaching and learning practices that encourage students to fully participate in the learning process. We foster a community where healthy choices are valued whether that relates to food or relationships or anything else. We also pay particular attention to the psychosocial dynamics of what it means to grow up female in today's world - issues that if not addressed, become barriers or risk factors to academic success and positive self-image building.
What kind of families are attracted to the school?

GALS attracts an incredibly diverse population. It appeals to students from a wide range of backgrounds and will support their diverse needs well. This model is meant to be a choice for any family who believes in single gender education and the importance of health and wellness being integrated into a school philosophy.
Expeditionary Learning allows the student more choice and autonomy in her education.  How do you feel this model fits with the GALS mission, as well as the overall success of students who attend the school?

The framework of EL allows students the ability to connect with their education. It integrates subjects when appropriate, draws on their relevancy to the world, and focuses on engaging students at  individual access points. It allows school to be relevant and interesting by using projects and drawing on local expertise and resources -- a particularly important framework for a girls' school, and it will allow students entering a classroom with a diversity of skills and knowledge to begin at a place that works for them and work off of a model of individual growth.

I love that every student has an Individual learning plan (ILP), which is something I have advocated for because it helps all students and reduces tension related to giftedness and struggling students, among other benefits.  I’ve heard that “this can’t be done” though.  How are you making it happen?

First and foremost, GALS is committed to a staff of educators who believe in this model of education. EL provides a great framework for differentiation, but the school will be built on a culture where a student is expected to own her education and work with her peers and faculty achieve appropriate growth.

 How might a successful student that graduates from GALS look and sound different than one that graduates from a conventional public school?

A GALS graduate will emerge into the world with the knowledge of how she learns best both intellectually and physically and how she needs to take care of herself in order to succeed. She leaves with courage and commitment as well as a strong sense of the responsibility of communal leadership and well-being. Throughout the course of the journey at GALS, she will explore 10 general physical and character traits that begin with the premise of power and strength and end with an understanding of balance. As she moves into the world, she can come back to these core skills and apply them in her life.

For more information on the Girls Athletic Leadership School, visit

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