Philanthropist speaks at senior assembly


By Ester Khachatryan

A mother who honored her daughter’s memory by starting a dance program and then a charter school urged seniors to be involved in causes they are passionate about.

Liza Bercovici (Jacob Axelrad ’10) was invited to speak at the senior class meeting on Feb. 23 as part of Community Service Awareness Week.

“We thought that her organization was really great and she could bring a lot to the seniors, especially because her son is in our grade,” said Anna Etra ’10, who controlled the event.

Bercovici’s presentation included a short film that outlined the accomplishments of her foundation and the positive changes it has made in the lives of underprivileged children in Los Angeles. Bercovici founded the Gabriella Axelrad Foundation and the Everybody Dance program in 2000 in memory of her daughter, Gabriella, who loved to dance. Gabriella was a student at the Middle School when she was killed in a traffic accident while bicycling during a family vacation in Grand Teton National Park.

“That’s why it meant so much to me to try and do something with dance for other kids,” Bercovici said.

The dance program serves underprivileged children in low-income inner city communities where gangs are prevelent and there are few enriching after school activities.

Everybody Dance has expanded to five studio locations since 2000, serving more than 1,000 students in 150 weekly classes, according to the official website.

“Parents would frequently tell us that their children were better behaved socially, more outgoing personally and improved academically as a result of the dance program,” Bercovici said. “From that I got the idea – probably because I am insane – that I could run a charter school.”

In 2005, Bercovici established Gabriella Charter School for students from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Gabriella Charter School is one of the only “dance-themed” charter schools in the country.

According to the school website, Gabriella Charter School students have performed far above students in the Los Angeles Unified School District in mathematics and English language standardized tests.

The school focuses on academics and uses dance as a means to build discipline and self-confidence, Bercovici said.