Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Girls Matter Program Receives Fund Boost; Program Brings Counseling, Therapy and Mentoring to Schoolgirls

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Girls Matter Program Receives Fund Boost; Program Brings Counseling, Therapy and Mentoring to Schoolgirls

Article excerpt

Byline: Denise Smith Amos

A program at two Duval schools that helps girls avoid suspension or referrals to the juvenile justice system is getting new funding and an expanded future.

Girls Matter: It's Elementary received a $64,000 grant from the state's Department of Juvenile Justice to sustain the program - which provides counseling, therapy and mentoring to elementary school girls - and to help train more volunteers and mentors.

The Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center operates the program in partnership with Duval Schools and juvenile justice. The 4-year-old program has helped about 400 girls at George Washington Carver and North Shore schools, which several years ago had the most girls suspended among elementary schools in the district.

"This program is so important because school failure is a major factor in girls entering the system," Christy Daly, interim secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice, said. "By intervening at an early age, we are able to improve the school experience and reduce girls' likelihood of entering the juvenile justice system."

In 2010, when the program began, there 849 girl suspensions in Duval, said Lawanda Ravoira, president of the Delores Barr Weaver center.

In Duval County 11 percent of juvenile arrests occurred at school, and 69 percent of girls in contact with juvenile justice had been suspended before. Added Ravoira: "The No. 1 risk factor for involvement in the juvenile justice system for girls was school failure. We were really putting them on a fast track to the juvenile justice system. ... There was a focus on behavior, not the trauma and stressors driving that behavior."

Girls who act out often are coping with personal trauma, Ravoira said. Among the program's students: 46 percent had a parent or caregiver in jail, 35 percent had parents lose a job, 13 percent experienced death of a primary caregiver, 26 percent experienced death of a close friend or relative, and 29 percent were living away from parents. …

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