The Ebell of Los Angeles, the storied women’s club founded in 1894 when higher education was much less accessible to most women, was a fitting location for the Girls Academic Leadership Academy Breakfast honoring California State Senator Holly Mitchell, Harvey Mudd College President Dr. Maria Klawe, and Jemina Bernard of the Student Leadership Network.
Earlier this month, more than one hundred guests joined students, parents and faculty from GALA, for its second annual leadership breakfast, a friend and fundraiser for the first-ever publicly funded all-girls school in the state, located in the neighborhood on the campus of Los Angeles High School.
GALA is only two years old and it’s thriving by every measure, attracting girls from more than 81 zip codes around Los Angeles. The school opened in August 2016 with its first class of 6th and 9th graders. There are now grades 6-11, and a waiting list of more than 400 girls.
Funds raised at the breakfast supplement the school’s budget, which has recently been cut, according to Monica Henderson, a parent of a 7th grader and president of the Friends of GALA, a nonprofit run by parents to plan, fund, and/or operate supplemental programs to enrich the curriculum.
“As a new school, we have to buy everything. Every year, we purchase a new curriculum for the incoming class and all the materials to support that curriculum,” said Henderson. Funds also support a robust calendar of field trips, explained Henderson. “There’s a lot of learning outside the classroom. On average each grade takes eight field trips a year.”
Principal and Founder Dr. Liz Hicks told guests about the vision of the school: to give girls a chance to develop careers in science, math and technology, and also to help them find their voice and passion and turn that into a career. Hicks said she is proud of her students’ accomplishments, but particularly proud of how they have learned the value of working together to achieve success.
LAUSD Superintendent Cheryl Hildreth introduced the Michelle King Scholarship, an annual scholarship established in honor of the late Dr. King at the request of her family. King was instrumental in realizing Dr. Hick’s dream to create GALA. She was an advocate for single-sex education and a scientist who supported Hicks in her effort to create the school. It was also announced at the breakfast that Dr. Michelle King’s name would be officially added to the name of the school. The new name – “Girls Academic Leadership Academy: Dr. Michelle King School for STEM” – was revealed to the appreciative audience, including members of Dr. King’s family.
Honoree Dr. Maria Klawe was unable to attend the breakfast, but delivered a video message thanking the school for the honor and the recognition of her efforts to dramatically increase the enrollment of women at Harvey Mudd College since becoming the college’s first woman president in 2006. Klawe was instrumental in helping GALA develop an Exploring Computer Science class for middle school girls and an AP Computer Science course for high schoolers.
Ms. Jemina Bernard, Executive Director of the Student Leadership Network, was honored for the work her organization is doing to provide support to five all-girls public schools in New York City, and 15 national affiliate schools, including GALA. The organizatino’s groundbreaking efforts with the New York City Board of Education to establish the First Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem, in 1996, laid the groundwork for creating schools like GALA some twenty years later. Bernard also accepted GALA’s first Dr. Michelle King scholarship for a graduating senior in the Student Leadership Network, on behalf of Dr. King’s family since GALA doesn’t yet have a graduating class. Next year will be its first graduating class.
California State Senator Holly Mitchell was the highlight of the breakfast. In her introduction, GALA Student Body President Juliett Urtega presented Mitchell with her own personal locker on the GALA campus. Urtega explained that one locker on campus will be dedicated to Mitchell and the GALA student president will be entitled to use the locker.
Mitchell was delighted and honored. She said she, too, was a scientist, but now practices a different kind of science.
“I’m a political scientist,” said Mitchell. “Political scientists speak truth to power; we often fight against the grain; we have to remain open-minded and receptive to new data information, we have to exhibit courage and sometimes we have got to thrown in a little bad-assery…and that’s what it took to get AB 23 passed.”
Mitchell told the story of how she first met Dr. King at her homeowners association.
“I was so impressed with the mere thought that one woman could have a vision and move the Goliath of government into new and uncharted territories,” said Mitchell.
She recounted how she and her California State Assembly colleague, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, worked with Dr. King, Dr. George McKenna and Dr. Hicks to save GALA when it was threatened by Title IX, the 1972 federal civil rights law that prevents discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program. Mitchell’s legislation permitted the operation of three single gender schools – Girls Academic Leadership Academy (GALA), Southeast Los Angeles’ Boys Academic Leadership Academy (BALA), and Koreatown’s Young Oak Kim Academy (another all-boys school) to focus on eliminating disparity in STEM fields — but she said she deeply regretted having to accept an amendment restricting any expansion. Not deterred, Mitchell said she is willing to go back to the legislature because the concept is working.
GALA is demonstrating success every day, said Mitchell, who has been involved with the school since its inception, underwriting numerous field trips for GALA students. At the breakfast Mitchell also pledged funds to match the Dr. King family scholarship, so there will be two such awards for next year’s graduating senior class. Mitchell asked that a scholarship go to a student for whom the additional support and help from the GALA family allowed her to get to the next level. She said this could be a student who might not qualify for some of the other scholarships that are available.
“Let’s look for the young woman, who, but for our continued support and our hands on her back, will be able to continue her meteoric her rise and make us all proud as she ventures into higher education and beyond,” said Mitchell. In closing, Mitchell she would always stand by the goddesses of GALA (a term of endearment that refers to the GALA students) because “you are our future.”
(Special thanks to Buzz reader and GALA parent Eileen Lanza for all the photos.)