© 2021 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Education

Hawthorn All-Girls High School Graduates Its First Class, A ‘Sisterhood’

Malaijah Douglas, third from left, reacts to a cheer from family members during Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls' first graduation ceremony on May 25, 2021. Hawthorn is the first all-girls public high school in Missouri.
Ryan Delaney
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Malaijah Douglas, third from left, reacts to a cheer from family members during Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls' first graduation ceremony Tuesday at the Big Top in Grand Center. Hawthorn, located in the Kingsway West neighborhood of St. Louis, is the first all-girls public high school in Missouri.

The eight seniors who received diplomas from Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls became a tight-knit group over the past six years.

“We like sisters,” as Hannah Green explained it. “We real close, like family. We get into fights like sisters, we make up like sisters. It’s just a real sisterhood here.”

Green was valedictorian for the first graduating class Tuesday from Missouri’s first all-girls public high school.

Back when they were seventh graders, it was a bigger group. About 60 girls started out in Hawthorn’s first year. Hawthorn opened in 2015 as a charter middle school sponsored by Washington University. Its building in the Kingsway West neighborhood of St. Louis was once the all-boys McBride Catholic school before being used by St. Louis Public Schools and Imagine charter schools over the years.

Malaijah Douglas and Terre Burks take a photo with a teacher before graduating from Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls Tuesday, May 25, 2021.
Ryan Delaney
Malaijah Douglas and Terre Burks take a photo with a teacher before graduating from Hawthorn Leadership School.

Hawthorn, which receives public funding as a charter school, has added a grade level every year since opening.

“We used to call ourselves the guinea pigs because everything that would happen, we get first,” said Terre Burks, another senior. “So we’d have new students, students leaving, and we get to see the change throughout the school.”

Burks, Green and their classmates wore all-white caps and gowns during the commencement ceremony held at the Big Top circus venue in Grand Center. Green also wore a pendant with a picture of her and her mom, who died in March.

“Honestly, if I had to choose, do you want prom or do you want graduation? You know, I honestly choose this moment right here because this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime” moment, she said. “You will never get graduation day back.”

Hannah Green, valedictorian of Hawthorn's first graduating class, checks a pendant with a photo of her and her mom, who died this spring, before walking at commencement. Tuesday, May 25, 2021,
Ryan Delaney
Hannah Green, valedictorian of Hawthorn's first graduating class, checks a pendant with a photo of her and her mom, who died this spring, before walking at commencement.

Family members spread out around the circus ring and bleachers, holding balloons and taking photos. It was one of the few in-person events the school has held since the pandemic shuttered school buildings last year.

Elayne Taylor brought grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles to cheer on her daughter, Enyale. Taylor said she was a “ball of emotions,” with bouts of joyful tears since the final day of classes last week.

“I'm just super proud of her, because during COVID, they shut down in the middle of their junior year. So we really weren’t sure how it was going to go,” she said.

Taylor credits all the family members and school administrators who helped get her daughter to commencement.

The administration has also experienced a lot of change in the school’s first six years.

Hawthorn’s charter was renewed last summer for another five years, but only after receiving additional scrutiny. The school’s enrollment and attendance had both dropped. Its student population this year was 93, down from 200 in 2019.

But Hawthorn’s students test slightly better than their peers in St. Louis Public Schools on standardized assessments.

“We have, despite the challenges, stayed connected with our girls and really been providing them with a high-quality education by meeting their needs as best as we can,” said Daphne Robinson, Hawthorn’s head of school.

Green told her classmates during her valedictorian speech to not stop now, but keep on going. She plans to work this summer and attend Lindenwood University in the fall. But before that, she and Burks are throwing a graduation party at Dave & Busters.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.