For more than two decades, math teacher Karen Venable-Croft was focused on bringing big ideas and unique paths to learning to her students. Then, two years ago, she and her partner took the ultimate leap, founding Girls Global Academy in Washington, DC. A charter school emphasizing engineering and business education, GGA has enabled Karen, Co-Founder and Founding Executive Director of the school, to bring her powerful brand of passion and exploration front-and-center, while educating the next generation of leaders and innovators.
Prior to launch, Karen taught math in Prince George’s County. “It was an incredibly diverse district, with more than 40 languages spoken and students from many countries and parts of the U.S.,” she says. “I loved it—but the sheer size of the school and the classes made it tough to really have the environment I wanted for my students. I wanted an environment where girls felt confident and eager to participate—somewhere they could truly thrive.”
With that vision paired with her hands-on experience, Karen and her partner set to work with a vision of creating an all-girls public charter high school unlike any other.
“Every girl takes an engineering and a business class,” she explains. “We thought that was really important for our students because it provides them with the skills to be able to critically think and become powerful problem solvers.” Students with these skills, she notes, can easily translate them no matter the educational and career paths they choose, be it STEAM, business, humanities or creative pursuits.
The school’s rigorous academics and four pillars—sisterhood, scholarship, service and safety—help girls find their passion and purpose so, during their high school careers and beyond, they can do, experience and achieve even more.
“We wanted to have a space where girls can be challenged and where they can lift each other up,” Karen says. “They know exactly who they can go to to get support. And they understand the power of service.”
This mindset has been especially critical during COVID-19, when students were forced into remote learning. Despite the challenges, GGA’s tight-knit community rose to the occasion, continuing to maintain their connections and their commitment to learning and to one another.
“Some students are already speaking with our engineering teacher on what an outdoor space could look like,” Karen says. “They took the initiative because they want to be together, to be a community. What could it look like? How could they utilize recreation centers, outdoor space in the open areas? And what does that mean—and how could it change the trajectory of what school is?” This, she notes, is central to why she launched the school—to inspire this type of real-world excitement and problem-solving. Already, she adds, that theory has been put to practice.
Looking ahead, Karen is eager to return to in-person learning—and to future GGA classes. With the school’s supportive environment and empowerment-first messaging, it’s clear students and graduates will be ready for the future work and all that comes next. While it’s been a long journey to this point, Karen wouldn’t have it any other way—and she encourages both her students and her fellow educators to take a step back so they, too, can find and act on their passions.
“Don’t be afraid to explore,” she says. “If you have a dream, pursue it. Surround yourself with people who are supportive and will allow you to ask questions—because, through those questions, you’re going to be able to find answers that drive you ahead. And above all, don’t be afraid to dream and speak out loud with your fellow sisters.”