Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Talking about 'Girl Matters'; National Advocates Hear about Jacksonville Program's Success

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Talking about 'Girl Matters'; National Advocates Hear about Jacksonville Program's Success

Article excerpt

Byline: Tessa Duvall

As four veteran female activists and philanthropists sat side-by-side with 11 girls at North Shore Elementary School, it wasn't the women who were sharing their knowledge - it was the girls.

The Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center hosted Teresa C. Younger, the new president and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women, as she stopped in Jacksonville Wednesday on her multistate tour. The full day of meetings began with the school visit to the "Girl Matters: It's Elementary" program where the girls had a chance to say what they like about the program and how they would make it better.

The girls at the meeting are in second through fifth grades and are referred into the suspension-intervention program for classroom disruptions, minor infractions and withdrawn behavior, among other things. They shared that they have learned about their emotions, how to work through being angry and have goals to earn good grades and stay out of trouble. Program graduates said they are eager to come back to mentor other girls.

They're so excited about the program, they want to create an exclusive handshake.

Younger sat alongside policy center President Lawanda Ravoira, Ms. Magazine co-founder Dorothy Pitman Hughes and philanthropist Delores Barr Weaver.

"We all need to hear what you have to say," Pitman Hughes told the girls, encouraging them to speak confidently and clearly.

Once the girls returned to class - but only after a selfie with Younger and receiving signed mementos from their visitors - Principal Felicia Hardaway said discipline issues are down among girls. According to policy center materials, schoolwide girl suspensions dropped from 80 per 100 girls to 2011-12 to 30 suspensions per 100 in 2013-14.

"It is phenomenal," Hardaway said. "You have no idea."

She jokingly asked for a "Boy Matters" program, too.

Younger said she finds site visits to be "the most inspiring and rewarding of the work that we get to do.

"Children and girls don't tell lies; they tell you where their energy level is, what they're hoping to do and what they're aspiring for. ... What we really saw today at the school were young, energetic girls who understand and appreciate education, [and] know and recognize their role of leadership in the community in their school and the Girl Matters group. …

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