When it came to finding a middle school for my daughter, I was admittedly “that mom” —the one who was a little overzealous about finding the right school. I did my research, crunched all the data and summarized all my findings in a bigger-than-life spreadsheet— all before selecting the schools we wanted to visit.
In all honesty, the Girls Athletic Leadership School (GALS Denver) wasn’t at the top of the list. It was a little farther away than the other schools, but having gone to an all-girls school myself, I put it into consideration. And from the moment we stepped foot in the building at GALS, we knew it was the perfect choice—for all the most unexpected reasons.
As a bit of background, our daughter was identified as highly gifted and talented (HGT) by Denver Public Schools (DPS) when she was in kindergarten. We were fortunate that our local elementary school was also home to an HGT magnet program and we were able to “choice in.” It was a great program that allowed our daughter to truly thrive with other kids just like her in a self-contained classroom while also getting some of the traditional elementary school experience. It was the perfect path for her, so when it came to finding the right middle school, I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to match her elementary school experience. And at the same time, I was also worried about all the non-academic stuff that plague middle schools.
To our surprise, GALS checked all the boxes including several that we didn’t even consider until we sat down and learned more about their school model and how it would benefit our daughter.
GALS meets all students where they are academically.
Like most parents of gifted kids, it was important for us to find a school that would challenge our daughter academically while also recognizing that she learned and approached academics differently than most.
While GALS is not designed as a magnet HGT program, it does give every student at every level what they need. The small class sizes creates almost a private school feel – full of individualized attention and tailored curriculum based on each student’s learning level. For our daughter, that meant working with the GT lead and developing an advanced learning plan (ALP), exploring passion projects through her traditional classes and advancing two years ahead in math. She always felt challenged and seen by her teachers.
Movement helped my HGT girl focus.
Like many HGT and GT kids, our daughter’s brain is always “on” — constantly thinking, questioning and creating. She’s also not very good at sitting still.
At the core of the GALS pedagogy is movement and they incorporate it into everything they do. The thought is movement and exercise have a positive impact on academics. It brings joy, energy, and confidence into learning, and research supports that daily exercise improves memory, attention, and cognition.
For my daughter, the 40 minutes of exercise each morning and the movement integrated into the classroom, helped her busy ADHD brain focus and better channel her thoughts. It infused more passion for her academic work and allowed her to achieve more while arming her with a powerful tool and resource to help her better manage her busy brain well into the future.
Real-time emotional support set my daughter up for success.
If you’ve raised an HGT, 2E or neurodiverse child, you know their intellectual and emotional brains often don’t mature at the same rate as their peers, and it can sometimes be hard for our kids to manage and understand what they’re feeling. Now combine this with hormones and the normal craziness of middle school.
The team at GALS recognizes adolescence is hard for all students and houses a robust and innovative counseling program, which is unique in DPS and most public school systems. They have found that when students address their emotions in real-time, and with someone they know well—whether it is about something in class, at home or in their friend group—the impact and effectiveness is great and students are better able to understand what they are feeling and how to more constructively cope. In addition, support staff constantly observe students in their regular daily interactions. This helps when unwinding a trigger or finding a coping skill that fits. It’s an incredible resource and open to all students in the building.
Additionally, the GALS Series curriculum—a unique daily core class at GALS— teaches the students to navigate through challenges and decisions successfully, to find and use their voice, to build strong, healthy and lasting friendships, and to proudly discover who they are both as individuals and community members. In this class, they explore identity, healthy friendships, conflict, leadership and critical thinking… It’s the class we wish we had all had growing up and, frankly, we benefited a lot from it along with my daughter.
Being part of ‘a team’ taught her leadership skills and built confidence.
When I first heard about the Girls Athletic Leadership School, my first thought was that “my studious daughter is not an athlete;” however, I quickly discovered at GALS all students are athletes by virtue of having a body, in every shape and form, and learning the value of skill building, self-advancement and valuing healthy competition.
Their mantra, “If you have a body, you are an athlete” rings true through the hallways and spaces of learning. Formal team sports are encouraged, but not required at the school, but the staff cleverly manages to bring friendly group competitions into the culture. Ask any student at GALS about Mighty Mighty, the Turkey Bowl, the annual ExtravaGALSa, GALympics, or any of the other community traditions and you’ll know that not only they are team sports in disguise, but they are also all beloved.
Why is this so important? These team activities cultivate self-esteem, foster and unite the grade-level and school communities, build leadership skills, and prepare students to live long, fulfilled lives.
A single gender learning environment gave her the freedom to reach her fullest potential.
This was a big one for us, especially as a parent of an advanced student. Studies consistently show girls exposed to high-achieving boys in the classroom often set their educational goals lower and have less confidence in their abilities.
Similarly, teachers tend to be more attentive to boys, call on boys more and interact with boys more often by a margin of as much as 30%. In contrast, when surrounded by single-gender peers, female students are more likely to prioritize their studies, speak more freely in the classroom, and feel more encouraged to achieve their fullest potential. We wanted to set this foundation for our daughter, especially since she was likely on a path to be in high achieving co-ed classrooms throughout the remainder of her educational career.
GALS gave our daughter more than a great education.
When we set out to look for a middle school, academics were our top priority. At GALS, we got that and so much more.
Our daughter wrapped up middle school more confident and more academically prepared for high school than we could have ever hoped—especially amidst pandemic. She emerged as a true leader with a firm grasp of who she was and what she wanted to contribute to the world—not something I could have said at 14. And with that, she had a solid foundation in both mental and physical wellness. She not only knew how to care for her mind, but also her soul.
In her words, “Mom, GALS gave me so many ‘badass’ skills that I am ready to take on the boys and the world.”