Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

PACE Provides Formula to Help Troubled Girls; for 25 Years, It Has Assisted Them in Overcoming Trauma

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

PACE Provides Formula to Help Troubled Girls; for 25 Years, It Has Assisted Them in Overcoming Trauma

Article excerpt

Byline: DEIRDRE CONNER

The recipe for turning troubled, at-risk girls into happy, successful women isn't a secret - or at least, that's what leaders of the PACE Center for Girls say.

Individualized, gender-specific education and counseling can get teenage girls back on track after they lose their way, a process that the PACE Center in Jacksonville has been perfecting for decades.

Now, on the 25th anniversary of its founding in Jacksonville, the PACE center's formula has become a national model. With 17 centers in Florida, it is unique in the nation as a female-focused intervention program. And it's gaining a lot of attention these days as researchers around the country are sounding the alarm about increasing numbers of girls and women getting in trouble with the law.

Instead of committing them to prisons and juvenile justice, girls need early intervention, which is more effective and cheaper, said Mary Marx, the interim president and CEO of statewide PACE Center organization.

They are girls like Savanna Jones, 16, who five months ago would never have envisioned herself speaking in front of hundreds of advocates and researchers.

Five months ago, she would shy away from other girls. Bullying and rejection weren't the main reasons why she fell behind in public school. But they also didn't endear her to the idea of attending the all-girls PACE Center once she was ready to go back.

Five months ago, she never saw herself making good grades - or good friends.

Five months ago, she couldn't imagine anything that would make her want to ride a city bus for four hours a day to get to school.

"I'm just really happy," Savanna told the audience listening to her story at the recent PACE conference, "because I've never been happy before."

Most of the girls at PACE are combating a variety of problems that cause them to fall behind in school, such as truancy, delinquency, running away or being in foster care. Once at PACE, they set individual goals such as getting a high school diploma or GED, or attending college. In addition to individualized schooling, the girls get counseling, life management education and take part in volunteer projects. …

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