Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy exemplifies what America's Promise Alliance wants to create for every young person in the country, said Alma Powell, wife of former secretary of state Colin Powell.
CGLA is a school where it doesn't matter from what struggles students come, because school administrators and a community of supporters have determined to help students overcome them, she said.
Powell commended CGLA and its 2016 graduating class Tuesday at the Young Women's Leadership Academy Foundation's seventh Odyssey Awards luncheon.
"Ladies, most of you here will go on to be the first in your families who attend college. Know the importance of this," Powell said. "As you succeed, you will change the trajectory of your lives, and not just your life, but the lives of every member of your family, your children and their children to come."
Powell spoke words of encouragement to students and more than 700 people attending the event. She is the chairwoman of America's Promise Alliance, a foundation founded by her husband to help children and youth from all socioeconomic sectors in the country succeed. The organization is pushing to bring the country's graduation rate up from about 70 percent six years ago to 90 percent by 2020. In 2015, the graduation rate was at 81 percent, Powell said.
Powell visited CGLA before speaking at the luncheon and commended school administrators and mentors on their determination to help students succeed.
The Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy is an all-girls school for grades 6-12 with a college preparation curriculum centered on science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEAM). Community advocates Sue Anne Wells and Maxine Bailey started planning the school in 2006. The school opened three years later with 75 students. Twenty-one students then enrolled as sixth-graders will graduate from the school this year.
CGLA Executive Director Dr. Elaine Swafford thanked people attending the luncheon Tuesday for their support.
"We have something that exists nowhere else in Chattanooga for many disadvantaged and underserved girls," Swafford said. "We're giving an advantaged education for free to these young ladies with lots of hard work by faculty and staff and by the generous giving of those who are here today."
The luncheon included a video featuring several students who said what they planned to be after graduating and thanked the luncheon audience for their support.
"Thank you for your encouragement and never giving up on me," said one girl who said she was going to be a pediatrician.
Another student, Akeia Colley, said the school "taught me how to apply myself."
CGLA is a school that came from being on the brink of closing in 2012 to gaining state recognition two years in a row as a "Reward School." The recognition means it is among the top 5 percent of schools that improved their scores on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program standardized test.
"You all have defied the odds here by saying it doesn't matter what ZIP Code you live in," Powell said. "It doesn't matter what the odds against you are, because we will help you to overcome them and all of you who support the school, you are champions."
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or 423-757-6431.