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Islington Tribune - by PETER GRUNER
Published: 10 April 2009
How school was rewarded with visit from First Lady

EGA chosen after students impressed US embassy speaker

EVERYONE agreed that the whirlwind visit by US First Lady Michelle Obama to an Islington girls’ school last week was a fantastic success.

But why was Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Language College chosen out of 2,500 secondary state schools in London?
It emerged this week that it was seven months ago when wheels were set in motion for the visit, which received worldwide publicity and front-page Tribune coverage. A public affairs adviser from the American Embassy gave a talk about civil rights at the school last year and was so impressed with the girls and staff she promised to get in touch again.
When contact was made it was to tell the head, Jo Dibbs, that the First Lady’s Office in the US had informed the embassy that Mrs Obama would like to visit an inner-city school when in London with the President. The official recommended EGA and the rest is history.
The embassy insisted that for the visit VIPs must be kept to a minimum so more children could attend. The only representative from the council invited was Lib Dem leader Councillor James Kempton.
Cllr Kempton, who is stepping down as leader, said: “It was one of the great moments of my life as leader of the council. Mrs Obama is truly inspirational.
“I simply welcomed her and thanked her for choosing Elizabeth Garrett Anderson out of 2,500 secondary schools in London.”
No one was more disappointed than Islington South and Finsbury Labour MP Emily Thornberry. She had to stand outside the school with 200 well-wishers.
Ms Thornberry said: “I rushed over to the school when I heard Mrs Obama was there and joined the screaming crowd.
“I’d love to have been invited inside but it was up to the organisers to decide who was most appropriate. The most important thing was that she met the girls.”
The Donegal Street school has received a glowing Ofsted report. Mrs Obama, a lawyer, would have been impressed that the school has produced one of Britain’s best-known black solicitors, Jassette Sue-Patt. Fifty languages are spoken by EGA’s 1,000 pupils. Many are refugees and only a third have English as their first language.
Among the school’s famous ex-pupils is X- Factor winner Alexandra Burke, currently in the US recording a new album. She has praised EGA as a major influence on her life and a place where she learned confidence to develop her singing talents.
Her mother, Melissa Bell, said: “It’s a fantastic school. I went there, as did my two daughters.”

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