At GLOW Academy, about 100 rising sixth graders were out to recess during a recent summer bridge camp. The motto on the back of their bright yellow T-shirts leaves no doubt that GLOW is focused on the long game.
"It says, 'She will graduate, go to college and succeed in life'," said Trinity Moore, a rising sixth grader. "I think it’s a good motto."
Trinity said she’s excited to go to GLOW, and she won’t miss having boys in class.
"Nope not at all, no. Bye! See ya!" she said.
GLOW Academy is the state's first all-girls charter school. It opened its doors in Wilmington this school year and is part of a national network of public schools whose focus is getting low-income and minority girls into college.
Research is mixed on whether single-gender schools are better for learning. But the Young Women's Leadership Network that GLOW is a part of has a track record of high graduation and college access rates.
That was one of the main reasons GLOW parent Christine Hicks decided to enroll her daughter.
"They're already teaching these girls, 'You will go to college, you will succeed'--just pounding that into them," Hicks said. "And I think if you keep positive affirmations, you keep affirming the girls that they will go to college, they will succeed, they will do well, I think they will."
GLOW's Principal Laura Hunter said getting low-income girls into college boils down to a lot of planning.
"It's a tough world," she said. "When you are clawing your way out of poverty, you have to be dogged about how you're going to plot your path forward."
The school will have a full-time college counselor working with each girl from sixth grade onward, developing relationships with schools and organizing college visits.
Young Women's Leadership Network founder Ann Tisch said the network discovered the value of a highly qualified, full-time college counselor at it's flagship school in Harlem, where about 80 percent of their students are would-be first generation college-goers.
"The first time they're on college campus is age 11, and so we begin the whole indoctrination," she said.
And in their senior year, the counselor helps them with all their paperwork, including the complicated FAFSA, college essay and other application items---no easy task, since each student is expected to apply to 20 schools.
"If you’re looking for financial aid, you cast a very wide net," Tisch said. "You can’t afford to apply to four schools and get four no's."
Planning also extends to academics. College prep starts now, in the sixth grade. And Hunter said the first step is getting all the girls to grade level in the next two years.
"Fifty percent are there--I’ve got 50 percent more to go," Hunter said.
The students have a learning block set aside to focus on their individual learning gaps. Teachers meet for three straight hours during the school day to plan lessons and talk about student needs. And each teacher is assigned to a group of girls they follow closely for the entire time students are at GLOW. Students can only enter in sixth grade, and school leaders hope each student will stay until graduation.
"What makes school work for kids in poverty are strong relationships between the adults in the building and the kids in the building," Hunter said. "So the strong personal relationships that they build with kids right now will travel with those kids for seven years."
The goal is to create a tightly controlled GLOW universe—an all-girls universe of sisterhood, learning, and an unwavering focus on college attainment. Hunter said she got some pushback that the model may over-insulate the girls from real life. But she's not bothered by it.
"If that’s what it takes to change the cycle of poverty in this county, in this community, in the neighborhoods where these girls come from, yeah I'll be insulating them," she said.
If that is what it takes, Serenity and the rest of GLOW's first class should walk across the stage at college graduation by 2029.