Purpose Prize

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Liza Bercovici

Gabriella Charter School
Purpose Prize Fellow 2014

This lawyer created an innovative dance-oriented charter school in L.A. in honor of her daughter, a budding dancer who died at age 13.

When my daughter, Gabriella, died in 1999 in a bike accident, my life stopped. My husband and I and our two sons were devastated. Too grief-stricken to continue my law career, I closed my practice and, with the help of family and friends, established The Gabriella Foundation in her honor. In the process, I slowly rebuilt my life.

Our first initiative was everybody dance!, a low-cost afterschool program for disadvantaged youth in Los Angeles. Gabri had loved her dance classes. Over the next five years, the program expanded to 200 weekly classes for 2,000 children at six inner-city sites.

I witnessed the children develop more confidence, discipline, resiliency, teamwork and fitness. Their parents often told me they wished their kids attended a school that had equally high expectations. I began to wonder: What if dance was a part of every child’s daily curriculum? Could the rigor of the dance studio drive achievement in the classroom?

  • Has quadrupled in size in nine years, 90 percent disadvantaged students

  • Exceeds state educational benchmarks

  • 2012 School of the Year, California Charter School Association

At age 52, there was little in my background to prepare me to found a public school with an innovative educational model based on dance. Yet I persuaded the Los Angeles United School District and the 22-member board of my foundation to open the Gabriella Charter School in 2005.

Our innovative curriculum incorporates meaningful arts instruction into a rigorous educational program. Our students, 90 percent of whom are disadvantaged, exceed state academic benchmarks. We’ve won many awards, including 2012 School of the Year from the California Charter Schools Association. We were ranked among the top charters in the state, according to the USC School Performance Dashboard.

This year we had 112 applicants for 17 kindergarten seats. It is heartbreaking to turn these children away, so I am now fundraising to start a second K-8 charter school.

I believe the school we created in memory of Gabri would make her proud.