How I Found My Home at GALS

by Jenn Green, GALS Series Teacher at GALS Denver

I was standing outside the tool shed at the Santa Fe Trail Museum with a wheelbarrow full of weeds when my phone rang.  I pulled my gloves off and ducked into the shade to answer.  It was Liz Wolfson, from the Girls Athletic Leadership School in Denver:

“We haven’t met yet, but once your name gets to me, it pretty much means you’ve got the job.”

She said this with an astonishing directness that I would later come to recognize as signature Wolfson, and it set my heart pounding.

The garden work was a filler for me while I reconsidered my future as a public school educator.  I’d come late to teaching after trying on a couple other careers, ranging from anthropology on the Navajo Reservation to post-modern dance in New York City.  Teaching proved to be a great fit for me.  It satisfied my desire to work for social justice in a way that felt urgent and impactful.  Plus I loved working with kids, teaching and learning and moving and changing the world with them.

Then No Child Left Behind came along, and the climate in schools shifted, subtly but recognizably, into something that felt heavy and stale, more about politics and bureaucracy and the business of testing, less about knowledge and empowerment.  I felt a growing apathy regarding the education system in America.   What do you do when you love your work but can’t stand your job?

There were signs of hope.  The charter school movement was gaining ground. Michelle Obama was doing her thing. I watched a lot of Ellen and heard stories about powerful grassroots initiatives taking place in schools around the country.

So I searched the DPS website and came across a link to a list of DPS charters. I was excited by the variety: language schools, green schools, back-to-basics schools and schools-within-schools!  Then I saw it:  

The Girls Athletic Leadership School.

My first reaction was disbelief, then delight, then urgency. I shoved my resume and application materials into a manila folder, drove to Denver, found the church (a church!?) where GALS was housed, marched up three floors to the office and introduced myself to Betsy.  I got an interview and did a sample lesson about area and perimeter that included a little math dance.  It seemed to go well.  I was very excited driving home.  Even if I didn’t get the job, I felt buoyed up just knowing this place existed.

Then Liz called.

Long story short, here’s where I landed:

  • at a school with a mission to empower girls, founded by two really smart women.
  • at a school that honors students different learning styles, including those who don’t tolerate sitting in a chair all day (most of us!).
  • at a school that honors teachers as innovators and professionals and supports them in maximizing their personal strengths and experiences to make learning meaningful, engaging, and authentic.
  • at a school that commits to collaborative practices as a rule rather than an exception, and actually makes a time and place for that work to happen, for both teachers and students (grade level teams, content teams,  morning movement, professional learning communities, wellness teams, community meeting, restorative justice).

I do not exaggerate when I say GALS saved my career, but it’s more than that.  GALS restored my faith in public education as a vehicle for social justice.   It reminded me that public school is where we grow democracy. GALS is a place where embodied learning is the norm, and a well-lived life is the objective.  I have learned so much about myself in this place. I often hear people say how wish they had a school like GALS when they were growing up.  I’m happy to say that wish has been granted to me.  I finally found my school, as a teacher, as a learner, as a person.  I am so grateful I found GALS.  

Thanks for the call, Liz!