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Denver all-girls school gets students up and moving to help students focus

Girls Athletic Leadership Schools (GALS) uses movement outside and inside the classroom to help students focus.

DENVER — The mission of the Girls Athletic Leadership Schools (GALS) is to succeed academically, lead confidently, live boldly and thrive physically. The Denver Public School is an all-girls, tuition-free college preparatory school based on combining physical activity with academics.

According to the school, students who participate in continuous and competitive movement are more likely to graduate high school, work in male-dominated industries and earn higher salaries.

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“They really get the idea of having a really strong voice in the world and standing up for what they believe in,” said middle school principal Leah Bock. “At a time in their lives when girls start to shrink and start to forget they matter, having this community of people to remind them that they do, is a huge and integral part of who we are.”

Credit: Byron Reed
GALS middle school principal Leah Bock said, "The student's learning experiences are planned specifically to incorporate movement because we know that’s what going to help them learn."

GALS uses daily exercise activities at the start of each school day where students participate in activities like ultimate frisbee, Australian rules football and juggling. Bock said throughout the remainder of the day while the students are in their classrooms, they participate in movement breaks to help them learn.

“Movement is this foundational component of all our classrooms,” Bock said. “We’re a school that’s based in pedagogy which means we believe that the brain is linked to the body and that learning won’t happen unless you’re engaging all of your senses.”

Credit: Byron Reed

GALS middle and high schools have nearly 450 students from 6th to 12th grade. Bock said the schools spend a lot of their time differentiating their curriculum, training teachers and looking at data from students to help students with academic success. She said it’s a strategy that’s working.

“We’ve constantly outperformed DPS,” Bock said. “We’ve consistently shown up in a way that not only is our programming working in terms of undoing the negative stereotypes associated with middle school and girls, but we are also out-performing academically.”

Credit: Byron Reed

“We try to use an avenue that allows the kids to see it differently,” said movement coordinator and athletic director Danielle Ennis. “The idea of coming with the repetition of trying to learn something and work at it and then see progress is what translates over.”

Ennis also teaches 7th grade language arts and sees the student’s progress both on the practice field and in the classroom. She said whether it's learning how to throw a frisbee or figuring out a math equation, the students are building self-esteem.

“If we can have kids feeling this sense of confidence and working hard at something in the play aspect then they can come in and take that into their [classroom] content, Ennis said.

“The one thing that I’ve learned here is that if you’re going to change the world, don’t ask for permission and that’s something that makes GALS so unique,” added 12th grader Nevaeh Chavez. “You just use your voice and everything that you’ve learned here in the real world.”

Credit: Byron Reed
GALS senior Nevaeh Chavez

Chavez is a senior at GALS and said the method has been helping her since middle school.

“It helps me focus and get into the groove of things to wake my brain up,” Chavez said. “Making sure that you’re mentally well is very good for when you’re in the classroom and you can focus on classroom things instead of outside stuff.”

Credit: Byron Reed

Brock hopes the movement will give her students a boost in the classroom by providing training for both the body and the mind. She said having a strong sense of community is who they are.  

“I hope they know they matter because they felt it here [and] they’ve experienced it,” Bock said. “And they know that they know the power that comes from being from a community that sees them.”

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