Above: From left, Girls academy students Leila Shiva, Emily Amador-Menzie, Jessica Sinnathamby and Zelda Moriwaki celebrate sisterhood at L.A. Unified’s first all-female STEM academy, now in its second year.
The Girls Academic Leadership Academy – California’s first public all-girls school to focus on science, technology, engineering and math education – held a special breakfast honoring Superintendent King, a long-time proponent of STEM education for girls and a key player in the founding of the school.
The special event – attended by Interim Superintendent Vivian Ekchian, Los Angeles First Lady Amy Wakeland, Dr. King’s daughter, Brittney King, and other prominent women – was sponsored by Friends of GALA, a booster organization of parents and other supporters focused on raising funds and generating support for the school.
“We are just amazed at this school and what it’s already been able to do in its first two years,” Brittney King said. “My mother believed in the vision for this school. She believed in Principal Elizabeth Hicks, and she believes in every single young woman here. She has always believed – and still believes – that every young woman can be and do absolutely anything she wants.”
In recognition of Michelle King’s support and her leadership of the District, the school’s 300 students recently voted overwhelmingly to rename the school in the superintendent’s honor.
“Dr. Michelle King, our superintendent and my friend and mentor, always believed that our young women are the leaders of the future,” Hicks said. “And, so we have decided – pending the approval of the Board of Education – to change our name to the Dr. Michelle King School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.’”
Hicks spoke of the years of work she underwent with the superintendent’s guidance to found the school.
“Dr. King has been this school’s greatest champion since the beginning,” she said. “She has always been a proponent of opening new doors for our young women and creating new educational pathways that didn’t yet exist. She could see into a future in which barriers are removed and women are able to accomplish things thought unimaginable. This school was built on that mindset.”
Hicks asked her students, “What do we say when someone says ‘we can’t’?’”
“We can’t YET,” they responded in unison.
Wakeland, the wife of Mayor Eric Garcetti, delivered a keynote address at the event.
“It’s extraordinary to be part of this school’s growth,” she said. “I look around this room, and I see the future of Los Angeles. If there is one thing that this school already proves it’s that women lead in this city and that girls lead in this city.”
Now in its second year, the girls academy enrolls students in grades six through 10. It will ultimately expand to 12th grade.
During the inaugural breakfast, more than three dozen young women served as ambassadors, greeting their guests and proudly demonstrating some of their science and engineering projects. Students spoke of their future aspirations, most of which involved careers in STEM fields.
Seventh-grader Leila Shiva said she is already considering multiple career options.
“I love biology, so I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon,” she said. “But, I also like math, so I want to manage hedge funds. I love the idea of buying, selling and trading stocks.”
Also excited about biology is fellow seventh-grader Emily Amador-Menzie.
“I want to be a pediatrician,” she said. “I want to be able to use science to help children, and I would love to work somewhere here in California. I am proud to be a Californian.”
Amador-Menzie says her first choice for college is the University of Southern California, although she also has her eyes on UCLA or Stanford.
Ninth-grader Jessica Sinnathamby said when she graduated last year from nearby Burroughs Middle School, she thought very carefully about where to attend high school. She was pleased to have the girls academy as an option.
“We are so lucky to have this school,” she said. “I was looking for a school where everyone is welcome, where everyone respects everyone else, and where it feels like a safe place to learn. There is a real sense of sisterhood here. We build each other up and help one another strengthen the paths we are on.”
“We are all one big family,” she said. “You don’t see any bullying going on. Everyone supports one another. It helps us feel empowered to do anything we put our minds to.”
Seventh-grader Zelda Moriwaki said that a lot of the school’s early success has to do with the people in the room at Friday’s special event.
“It’s really exciting, because no matter what we choose to do in our lives, we have all these people here who will support us every step of the way,” she said. “Knowing there are so many people who believe in us is a great feeling. This school is going to be a major part of who I eventually become.”