First all-girl charter school in NC kicks off a glowing year

WILMINGTON — Eleven-year-old Makayla McClammy is having a year of firsts. The bubbly sixth-grader recently took her first plane ride. But more importantly, she’s one of 100 girls in the inaugural class of the Girls Leadership Academy of Wilmington (GLOW), the first single-gender charter school in North Carolina.GLOW, located in the heart of the coastal town, caters to at-risk girls and operates on the premise that girls thrive in classrooms without boys. Girls in single-gender schools tend to score higher on standardized tests, do more homework, and take on a more rigorous course load, especially in the critical subjects of math and science.”They’re no boys to distract you,” Makayla said.Laura Hunter, principal at GLOW, offers a more in-depth explanation. She points out that elementary school girls embrace math and science, but often experience a change after their fifth-grade graduation.”There’s something culturally that happens in middle school that shifts that focus,” Hunter said. “Girls become aware of the boy-girl dynamic, and they don’t want to outshine boys. And we have a predetermined idea that boys are better in math and science and girls are better readers.”So it’s not enough to just take boys out of the classroom.”You have to make a conscious effort not to engender your classrooms,” Hunter said, “and then girls will continue to self-identify as wanting to be doctors and inventors way past middle school.”Equally important to the GLOW model is a focus on the “whole girl,” so the emotional, physical and social personas are addressed as well.”Sometimes we have to rescript what a family looks like,” Hunter said. “We model functional relationships and conflict resolutions and create safe spaces to talk about what’s happening at home.”GLOW helps students integrate socially by offering electives that mimic extracurricular activities they may not get to do otherwise such as tennis, voice lessons or personal fitness with a trainer.Armed with the realization that college can break the cycle of poverty, GLOW is a “college-going culture” and places a strong emphasis on college preparedness. Students attend daily leadership advisory classes, led by a mentor who encourages the children to think critically and creatively, problem-solve and collaborate—all skills identified as essential to achieving in college.”We have to jumpstart the conversation about what college is, what the expectations are and what you do now to prepare yourself,” Hunter said.GLOW students have a proven path to college success. The school is patterned after a network of nationwide single-gender schools known as the Young Women’s Leadership Network. Ninety-five percent of its students graduate, and 100 percent of its graduates attend college, compared to 10 percent of at-risk girls at the national level.The school also addresses two of the shortcomings of many charter schools—lack of transportation and no-cost meals. These programs, along with extended-day and summer-learning programs, are funded through a foundation under the direction of GLOW president, Todd Godbey, whose role is similar to a school superintendent.”Children need to be rested and fed so they can learn,” Godbey said. “We’re in the business of removing barriers, not creating them.”On tap for the new year is a Parents’ University, in which parents can learn life skills, such as budgeting or making clothes, and a fundraising event featuring Food Network celebrity Giada De Laurentiis. Future plans include launching GLOW schools throughout North Carolina.Makayla has another first in her sights. She wants to be a veterinarian, meaning she would be the first in her family to attend college. And with the entire GLOW family in her corner, her odds seem to be better than good.