For 171 years, the Philadelphia High School for Girls, commonly referred to as Girls High, has served as an educational mecca for academically talented young women in Philadelphia.

The school, which opened in 1848, was one of the nation’s first public high schools for girls. Its students often have gone on to become judges, doctors, lawyers, musicians, and entertainers. Some of the alumnae include Gloria Allred, Constance Clayton, Jill Scott and Judith Rodin.

“This school is the perfect blend of academics and programs,” freshman Isabella Dalessandra said. “In the classroom, the teachers and staff are preparing us for our future. Outside of the classroom, the programs and clubs gives us an opportunity to explore our interests.

“I want to be a doctor, so this school offers a lot to help me with that,” she added. “We have college prep. We’re also learning how to do an interview and write a résumé. All skills that will help me achieve my goal.”

Located at 1400 W. Olney Ave. the school’s mission is to mission is to graduate students who will treat others compassionately and lead lives of personal integrity at the university level, preparing them to be future leaders.

“This school year, we wanted to focus on a few things including building community and partnerships, recruitment, rebranding, and programming,” said first-year principal Lisa Mesi. “Girls High enrollment has declined over the last couple of years. We’re currently at 780 students, so we’re looking to get our enrollment back up to 1,000.

“Recruitment this year has really been an effort between the alumni as well as the school and the staff and the students. This year, we did things a little differently. When we went out to schools, we actually brought students who graduated from Girls High. We also upped our shadow days. Girls used to be able to shadow at the school for two hours, now it’s a full day.

“We have a baccalaureate program where our girls are graduating with two diplomas upon graduation,” she added. “The Senior-Year Only program gives our girls the opportunity to spend their day on college campuses for free. We have our colleges that come in and do some work with the students at our campus. We’re also trying to explore other opportunities with various colleges. By the time our girls leave here, we want them to be empowered, independent and ready to lead within whatever area they choose.”

The student body of Girls’ High consists of culturally diverse, scholarly young ladies from across the city. In addition to the school being college-preparatory, it also provides numerous opportunities through its programs and clubs.

“I just started a new club called the sign club,” senior Jenna Oliver said. “One of the reasons I wanted to do that is because of my own experience. There have been so many people who were not able to communicate with my parents because their both deaf.

“I want to be the bridge to connect the hearing world to the deaf community,” she added. “That’s what I’m trying to accomplish. That’s why I started the club here. Not to mention that one of my dreams is to be an interpreter.”

Junior Xinyue Candy Zhang decided to start a college and career readiness club after being inspired by a program she was participating in, Philadelphia Futures.

“All grades can participate in the club and we bring in different speakers to talk about their jobs,” Xinyue said. “It gives students more insight into different careers.

“We also provide college trips. Girls’ High is such an amazing school that has provided me with endless opportunities,” she added. “In addition to this school having a rigorous academic curriculum, we also have a great support system here in the teachers and staff.”

Senior Imani Grey has kept a busy schedule since being a student at Girls’ High. She runs track and she also participates in the student ambassador program.

“For the student ambassador program, I represent the school inside and outside of the building,” Imani said. “If people come in and want to do a tour they come to me. I show everyone around and tell them what Girls’ High is about.

“This school has really showed me the importance of hard work,” she added. “At my former school, a lot of my classes came easy, but here I worked hard for everything I have accomplished. I want to go to Penn State for college and be a nurse practitioner in women’s health. I’ll be fully prepared to do both because of the lessons and skills I’ve learned at Girls’ High.”

Sophomore Channah Nielson has also stayed busy since being a student at Girls High. She plays the harp and piano, is in student council, and runs track. She said she’s grown a lot since being a student at Girls’ High.

“Before I became a student at Girls High I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do future wise; I just knew I like helping people,” Channah said. “Since being here, I realized my strengths and my weaknesses. I have a better idea of my career path and where I’m going. I’ve grown so much in the short time I’ve been here and I know this is just the beginning for my journey.”

chill@phillytrib.com (215) 893-5716

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