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Latina All-Girl School Rivals Oprah’s Leadership Academy

LatinaLista — The most positive news that has greeted us in these first two days of 2007 was how Oprah Winfrey has finally realized her dream of opening up an all-girl school in South Africa.

Oprah and the first class of girls for the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy

Christened the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy, it is built in Henley on Klip, outside Johannesburg.

The $40 million (Oprah confesses to capping expenses at $50 million) price tag for this state-of-the-art school for girls, who are more accustomed to living in one and two-room shacks and sharing one toilet with whole neighborhoods, rather than living on a 28-building campus with all the modern conveniences that they never had, is Oprah’s way of feeling closer to the people she helps.

Oprah personally selected the first class of 152 disadvantaged 11, 12 and 13-year-old girls who will comprise grades 7 and 8. Eventually, the school’s enrollment will expand to hold 450 girls.

It’s said that when Oprah was visiting a home of one of her future students the women in the neighborhood came outside and shouted “VIVA, Oprah Winfrey, VIVA.

Well, it seems shouts of “VIVA” are in order for another all-girls school with the same objectives as Oprah’s.

And by all accounts, with the same kinds of girls, as the South Africans, who are having to rise above their environments for a chance at an opportunity that wouldn’t otherwise be readily available to them.

The only things different about this school is that there’s no 28-building campus and the school isn’t across the ocean. Depending on where you live, the farthest it is located is across the country — in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

It’s called Esperanza Academy.

Esperanza means hope in Spanish and this middle school is giving just that to some girls whose daily lives are punctuated with poverty, gang violence and low expectations of themselves.

The school is a joint venture between Christ Episcopal Church in Andover and Grace Episcopal Church in Lawrence.

It was created after a study found that middle school girls were at greatest risk of failure in this city. None of the families pay tuition since school organizers have aggressively sought out sponsors for each of the girls.

The first group of 42 students, who are primarily of Dominican and Puerto Rican heritage, put in extra long study hours from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Esperanza Academy

The girls must commit themselves, as well as their parents, who have to volunteer at least two hours a week at the school to cook and clean.

After-school activities involve extra tutoring and other activities to keep the girls busy and focused on succeeding.

As with most private schools with such high goals, and no Oprah Winfrey benefactor, Esperanza Academy must struggle on a daily basis for the money to expand their enrollment and keep this oasis of hope alive for their students and the girls who would like to attend.

Schools like Esperanza Academy and Oprah’s Leadership Academy recognize the fact that there exists a window of opportunity in a young girl’s life, especially disadvantaged girls, where the value of education is weighed against the realities of their environment.

The secret is to find that window and — keep it open.

Latina Lista applauds all the muchachas of Esperanza Academy and proclaims them


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