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Hidden Gems: Meet Vanessa Garza of Girls Athletic Leadership School LA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Vanessa Garza.

Hi Vanessa, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
I’m a 3rd generation Angeleno and had the privilege to attend an all-girls, private high school. Even then, I realized the positive impact that my single gender experience would have on my future. As an undergrad at Tulane, I participated in service learning projects at the local elementary schools. It was then that I began to understand the opportunity gap in low income neighborhoods. After graduating, I returned to Los Angeles and served as a public middle school teacher. As a student, I always struggled with math and noticed many of my students did as well. I was passionate about reducing math anxiety for students, especially girls who often were vocal about their math struggles. Later. I pursued school administrator roles and ultimately became the Founding Principal of Girls Athletic Leadership School LA. It was truly the intersection of my educational experience and my professional experience as a public educator. Finally, a single-gender education was no longer a privilege for a few, it was now an option for many families.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Certainly not a smooth road. When a school opens for the first time, it’s boots on the ground all the time as you search for prospective families to join you in this dream. Since we were co-located our first year with a local district school, we didn’t have the option to host open houses or give tours to families. Truly, families had to believe with us in the promise of a new school model unlike any that has existed prior. Also, you are staffing an entire school from scratch and that is no small feat. Identifying and selecting a team that will work together toward this vision is unlike anything else. We’re so proud that five years later, multiple team members from our founding staff are still with us today. Even now, facilities and student recruitment are top priorities. In our first three years of operation, our campus moved three times! Currently, we’re working on securing our own private site for a permanent campus solution.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
Our Pledge:
Our 6 minute video:

At GALS, we live and breathe the Pledge. In non-COVID times, we say it altogether as a whole school after working out. We begin our day with various workouts (yoga, dance, circuits, and self-defense, for example) to wake up our minds and prime ourselves for embodied learning. Embodied learning incorporates movement into our classes. Each period, students takes a 3-5 minute pause from instruction to do a brain boost! A brain boost is a short physical activity, often embedded with content, to enhance our learning. At only five years old, we are proud of so many accomplishments. One, we are WASC accredited, while this is not required, we strive for academic excellence and recognized for it. We have had multiple students become scholars with the A Better Chance program. Today, those graduates are at excellent schools like Marlborough, Louisville, and Viewpoint with the financial and programming support to ensure they thrive. We’re proud of ourselves for being true community partners. GALS students revived the Panorama City Neighborhood Council’s Youth Council. What’s most incredible is that this opportunity is free, as a public charter school, there is no selection criteria. All families that complete enrollment paperwork are enrolled at GALS!

Do you have recommendations for books, apps, blogs, etc?
Rachel Macy Stafford of the Hands Free Mama and Hands Free Revolution. She provides the greatest posts and reflections on parenting that also go hand in hand with my role as a Principal.

Contact Info:

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