Girls Leadership Academy of Wilmington, first all-girls charter school in North Carolina, opens

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WILMINGTON – It was a morning full of hugs, high fives and words of empowerment as the Girls Leadership Academy of Wilmington (GLOW) opened its doors to students for the very first time.

The school, which welcomed 100 sixth-grade girls to its inaugural class, is the first all-girls public charter school in the state of North Carolina. It is modeled after a school in East Harlem in New York City created 20 years ago by former journalist Ann Tisch through her Young Women’s Leadership Network (YWLN).

“My wife had this great idea, whose time has come again, that single-gender education as a choice should be an option available to inner-city students the way it’s available to affluent students, the way it’s available to Catholic students through the parochial school system, to Jews through the yeshivas,” said Andrew Tisch, Ann’s husband and a member of the YWLN board of directors. “Single gender education was a great opportunity to help young women blossom where traditionally they had not been given as much opportunity.”

“If you wanted a public education with an all-girls setting, that didn’t exist,” said Ann Tisch. “We thought that was wrong, and that’s why we started our first school.”

GLOW joins 17 other schools as an affiliate or member of YWLN, which aims to serve primarily low-income, at-risk girls, who, according to YWLN, have a high school graduation rate of less than 60 percent nationally. The schools in the network have a 95 percent graduation rate, and 100 percent of those students go to college, according to YWLN.

“The achievement gap and earning gap in this nation is widening. To not take action is to recreate the caste systems that our ancestors came here to escape,” Ann Tisch said. “GLOW has been created to offer young women a clear and direct path to education, which we know is the only true equalizer. It can break the cycles of poverty, it can transform generations, it can rebuild communities.”

Access to that education is the reason parents Eddie and Kyara Roque of Wilmington enrolled their daughter Gracie at GLOW.

“We’re really excited,” said Kyara Roque. “This is a good opportunity for her.”

For Gracie’s dad, who said he grew up without his parents, the access to a college prep education represents options that were not available to him.

“For me, (having a daughter at GLOW) means a big opportunity that I didn’t have,” said Eddie Roque, adding that he believes parents should be invested in their children’s education. “We just want the best for her. We’re grateful to be in this program.”

‘GLOW has been created to offer young women a clear and direct path to education, which we know is the only true equalizer. It can break the cycles of poverty, it can transform generations, it can rebuild communities.’ — Ann Tisch

The Roques’ story is something that Ann Tisch said she loves to hear. It reminds her of why she started the schools in the first place, she said.

“I’m always very touched by the stories of the parents. They’re heroic in their own journeys, what they’ve gone through, and what they continue to go through to put into place the pieces in the lives of their children that they didn’t have,” Ann Tisch said. “I think a lot of people forget that inner city parents want as much for their children as the parents in any other neighborhood in this country.”

GLOW Principal Laura Hunter welcomes students off the bus on the first day of the school's existence. Photo by Hannah Leyva.
GLOW Principal Laura Hunter welcomes students off the bus on the first day of the school’s existence. (Photo by Hannah Leyva.)

The Tisches and their educational model ended up in Wilmington — the smallest city in the country to have such a school — through the efforts of Wrightsville Beach resident Judy Girard.

Girard, the former head of the Food Network and HGTV, once volunteered at The Young Women’s Leadership School in East Harlem and believed Wilmington, her adopted hometown, could benefit from the same kind of programs.

“We are making history today,” said Girard, adding that it took people to get the school up and running. “I didn’t even know people as generous as the people in this room existed – not just money, but time and spirit and support.”

The school will be run through a combination of state funds and money raised through the non-profit GLOW Foundation. While Girard’s background is in television, not education, her connections were useful in getting big names to financially back the school. In January, celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, one of the Food Network’s first stars, cooked lunch for 300 people at the Country Club of Landfall to raise money for GLOW.

Girard also garnered the support of Ken Lowe, president, CEO and chairman of the board of Scripps Networks Interactive, which owns several cable channels, including the Food Network, HGTV, the Travel Channel and the DIY Network.

“It’s a dream come true for me, because I love this state, I love our future and I think today we’re starting something that can just go on and on and on,” said Lowe, a Mount Airy native and University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill graduate. “I am so excited about today because I really believe the future is so much in the hands of the women not only of this state, but women of the world. They’re going to be the change agents.”

 

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