Girls in Wilmington have a new opportunity to advance their education through an innovative approach. The Girls Leadership Academy of Wilmington (GLOW Academy) was founded three years ago with a mission to close the achievement and opportunity gaps plaguing low-income families in the community.
The only school in North Carolina of its kind, GLOW is a part of the national Young Women’s Leadership Network that strives to equalize education and achieve success through a proven educational model. Currently home to 300 students, the 6th thru 12th grade school accepts 100 girls a year and will eventually have 700 pupils.
“Although GLOW is only beginning its third year, we’re already having an impact,” said Todd Godbey, school president. GLOW strategically emphasizes academic rigor, personal responsibility, leadership and college preparedness and boasts of already achieving a 95% attendance rate, a milestone that demonstrates the commitment of the students, families and community at large.
“Our vision is that she will graduate, go to college and succeed in life,” Godbey said. “GLOW is education empowerment and is very specifically focused on girls who might otherwise fall through the cracks.”
Part of what makes GLOW different is the ways in which it breaks out of the perceived norm for charter schools. GLOW provides meals and transportation and focuses on students who often would be the first-generation in their family to attend college.
Another of GLOW’s unique innovations is to forge collaborative partnerships with other nonprofit organizations to provide programming and services. The YWCA runs after-school programs, Thalian Association teaches the drama program and One Love Tennis teaches tennis.
Recently, the tennis program showcased just what makes the school special. The students watched a documentary on Althea Gibson, the late tennis star who was trained in Wilmington and has a local tennis park dedicated to her. “The girls were thrilled to learn there was an African American tennis player who came from our community,” said Laura Hunter, school principal.
When the girls found out there wasn’t a statue dedicated to Gibson’s memory at Flushing Meadows, home of the US Open, they decided to do something about it and wrote letters to the US Tennis Association. “Because of their letters, there’s going to be a dedication of a statue to Althea Gibson during the US Open this September,” Hunter said. “We’re teaching these girls, early on, to take responsibility for themselves and their community and they saw how they affected change when they raised their voices.”
GLOW’s next chapter is just beginning with the construction of its new campus that will be finished for the next academic year. “The girls are going to walk into a school unlike any other in our county,” Hunter said. They’re going to feel valued in a fun place to learn and it’s going to publicly demonstrate how quickly the community got behind our program.”
Margaret and Ned Barclay, North Carolina Community Foundation fundholders with a deep history of philanthropy, are a part of the community support GLOW has received. They were so inspired by the mission, programs and community engagement that they founded the GLOW NC Endowment to support the work of the Academy for generations to come.
“We were really impressed with the concept and what they’re doing for the community,” Ned Barclay said. “Both my wife and mother were schoolteachers, so we have a deep connection to education.”
The Barclays chose to show their support for GLOW through an endowment. “I’ve been involved with the community foundation for years, as a member of the New Hanover County Community Foundation board, so we knew the benefits of an endowment,” Barclay said. “We chose to do an endowment because we hope that the fund will continue to grow for years to come.”
“Margaret and Ned’s leadership is incredibly important to our community,” said Anne Sorhagen, NCCF’s regional director in the Wilmington office. “The GLOW NC Endowment is just another example of their inspiring philanthropy and community leadership for charitable causes.”
The GLOW NC Endowment will grow with the girls it’s supporting and is another demonstration to GLOW of the community support. “The Barclays recognize that this is not just a charitable contribution,” said Judy Girard, GLOW founder, school board member and GLOW Foundation board chair. “This is a real investment in the community.”
GLOW’s 21st century model is making a difference in the community. “It’s so clear we’re really doing something here,” Girard said. “GLOW is a tangible way to solve an urgent problem.”
For Principal Hunter, it’s all about her students. “There is a direct and long-term result to educating a girl,” she said. “When you educate a girl, you educate the future; you educate her family and generations thereafter.”
Hunter sees the work of GLOW as not only changing the lives of the girls, but also impacting the larger community. “Everybody talks about breaking the cycle of poverty,” she said. “We’re giving these girls the tools and opportunities to break that cycle for themselves and their families.”
By Louis Duke