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Paving the Way for Girls Through Higher Education and Vocational Opportunities

At Pace Center for Girls, we recognize the power of education in shaping the futures of young women. Our commitment to providing girls with access to higher education, vocational and trade opportunities is not just a mission, but a vision for a more inclusive and empowered future.

Offering a diverse range of opportunities – from leadership roles to STEAM programs, arts, sports, and beyond – provides our girls with the chance to explore, discover their passions, and challenge norms that may have limited their choices.

Unlocking Doors through Interactive Experiences

At Pace, we understand that education is not just confined to textbooks and classrooms; it’s an experiential journey. Our annual college trips and tours serve as immersive experiences for our girls, broadening their horizons beyond their immediate surroundings.

Through partnerships that bridge the gap between education and real-world application, we open doors to fields that have been traditionally underrepresented by women. Despite accounting for around half of the employed US workforce, women made up only a third (34%) of those employed in STEAM occupations in 2019. Our collaborations in Emergency Management and STEAM careers are particularly noteworthy. From attending the annual Hurricane Conference in Florida to exploring the intricacies of cellular biology, our girls are exposed to the limitless possibilities that these fields offer.

Imagine the scene: young girls removing candy “kidney stones” and touring the fourth-floor operating room at the University of Florida. These hands-on experiences are not just intriguing, but transformative. They showcase the significance of women in science, demonstrating that our girls can shape the future of these fields.

Addressing Alarming Trends

In recent years, there has been a decline in the enrollment of female freshmen in colleges, as reported by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. This trend is concerning, as it points to potential barriers that young women are facing in accessing higher education. However, at Pace, we are determined to be a part of the solution.

Our Comprehensive Approach

Our vocational and education program is designed to empower at-promise girls in every way possible. We equip them with the tools needed not only to earn their high school diploma or GED but also to develop long-term employability skills. Beyond that, we actively support their pursuit of higher education, whether that means entering a professional training program, joining the military, attending a community college, or enrolling in a four-year university.

Pace has seen transformational improvements among girls personally and professionally. Eight out of 10 girls graduate from high school, pursue higher education or secure employment after the program, and nine out of 10 have experienced overall academic improvement. 

Are you a girl who’s interested in Pace? Do you know a girl who may benefit from our programs? Click here to learn more about life at Pace and how you can enroll. 


Empowering Tomorrow’s Leaders: Pace Center for Girls’ Inaugural Girls Leadership Institute 

In a world where empowering young women and lifting their voices is paramount, Pace Center for Girls took a meaningful step forward by hosting its inaugural Girls Leadership Institute. This three-day celebration of learning, growth, and sisterhood brought together girls from 21 Pace locations across the state of Florida, fostering an environment where they could learn valuable leadership skills, address challenges, and create innovative solutions to shape the future of Pace. 

Unveiling Leadership Skills and Innovative Solutions 

Through workshops, discussions, and interactive sessions, Pace girls explored the intricacies of effective leadership, honed their communication abilities, and gained insights into problem-solving strategies. 

But it wasn’t just about theoretical knowledge. The heart of the Institute was in identifying opportunities and solutions to strengthen the Pace experience for future girls.  

“My favorite part of the institute was collaborating with other girls and bringing forward solutions to challenges — like transportation and dress code — that we all think are needed.” — Jazlyn, Junior, Pace Volusia-Flagler 

A Glimpse into History and Inspiration 

During the second day of the Institute, girls gathered at the historic Ritz Theatre and Museum in Jacksonville for a morning filled with inspiration and empowerment. Stepping into the corridors of history, they were reminded of the strength and resilience of those who came before them. The museum’s legacy served as a powerful reminder that they, too, have the potential to leave their mark on the world. 

A Conversation with Pace’s President and CEO  

“My favorite part of the experience was to come together with all the girls and have the opportunity to speak to the Executive Leadership Team about what matters to us. We were able to voice what we need at Pace.” – Ryann, Senior, Pace Jacksonville 

A highlight of the Institute was the opportunity for the girls to engage in one-on-one conversations with Mary Marx, President and CEO of Pace Center for Girls. These discussions provided a platform for the girls to share their visions for the future, seek guidance, and receive inspiration from a woman who has dedicated her career to empowering young women. 

Presenting to the Future 

“It was empowering to get together with girls from across the state and collectively unite our voices. I like that the staff gave us a chance to discuss our views and opinions.” –  Serenity, Senior, Pace Clay 

At the culmination of the retreat, the girls presented their findings to the Executive Leadership Team at Pace. This was a moment of empowerment, as they showcased their innovative solutions and ideas. The girls’ poise and confidence while presenting was a testament to the transformative impact of the Institute. 

The Girls Leadership Institute was a resounding affirmation that the future is indeed in capable hands. These young leaders are not waiting for opportunities; they are creating them. The Institute was made possible thanks to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and generous supporters including Fondation CHANEL, Florida Blue’s Women’s Affinity Group (WIN), First Horizon Bank, and Fifth Third Bank.  


A Summer of Inspiration: Merging Art and Nontraditional Learning in Math 

Summer break is a time for relaxation and rejuvenation, but it doesn’t have to be a break from learning. Pace’s year-round programming for girls ages 11-17 is crucial as it helps prevent learning loss, reinforces knowledge and skills, and provides opportunities for exploration and enrichment. 

New this summer, Pace Polk introduced “Art in Math,” a multidisciplinary learning incentive for girls. The immersive art experience led by Chloe Lynch, Program Assistant at Pace Polk, featured a famous artist each week and showcased how art relates to math.  

“Mathematics often conjures images of equations, formulas, and rigid problem-solving,” expressed Chloe. “However, incorporating art into math lessons introduces a creative twist that opens doors to a world of possibilities for our girls.” 

By integrating nontraditional and creative learning over the summer, we can: 

  • Foster Personal Growth: Nontraditional learning can offer unique experiences that challenge our girls to step out of their comfort zones, build resilience, and develop new skills. 
  • Bridge Educational Gaps: Creative learning can address educational gaps and inequalities. For girls who may lack access to certain resources, summer programs can provide additional support, resources, and experiences that contribute to their overall academic success. 
  • Promote Social Interaction: Art often involves group activities and collaborative projects. This fosters social interaction and teamwork, enabling our girls to build strong relationships and communication skills with their peers. 
  • Explore Career Interests: The “Art in Math” activities focused on career exploration, allowing girls to gain insights into different professions and industries. This exposure can help them make more informed decisions about their future educational and career paths. 

We spoke with Cailee, 14, a student at Pace Polk, who shared that her experience in Pace’s summer learning program offered more flexibility, allowing her to pursue topics and activities that align with her passions and preferences — one of those being art. 

“I think art is fun and beneficial because you get to see other people’s mindsets,” shared Cailee . “My favorite artist that we learned about this summer was Frida Khalo, a Mexican painter known for her many self-portraits. Her dedication to art and her community inspires me. I’ve learned at Pace that it doesn’t matter what background I came from and what I’ve been in the past — that I can be myself without any judgment.” 

Every day, our exceptional team of educators, counselors and therapists, work to create inclusive spaces that help girls realize and harness their power.  

Are you a girl who’s interested in Pace? Do you know a girl who may benefit from our programs? Click here to learn more about life at Pace and how you can enroll. 


My Success Looks Different from Yours: Two South Carolina Girls Hope to Inspire Others to Stand Proud in Who You Are

An estimated 3,316,280 students graduated high school this year, wearing stoles that tie them to hundreds of years of tradition and history as they walk to get their diplomas. The hierarchies of academic and extracurricular achievement are traditionally symbolized by colors that mark degree levels, organizations, as well as honors.

Ty’unna and Iris, high school seniors in South Carolina, are celebrating a more inclusive graduation day and revolutionizing what success looks like. The stoles they wore represent a more complete portrait of today’s girl — where resiliency and emotional wellness are celebrated on the same stage as academic and extracurricular achievement. 

“To me the graduation stole is not just a piece of fabric, it represents who I am and is a statement of what I have overcome to make it to the finish line. I am not just graduating because of my academic success but because I have learned that I have the power to be my own best advocate,” shared Iris. 

We must understand the role emotional support plays in getting students, particularly women, through high school. Students have reported that their mental health and emotional struggles keep them from achieving their goals, whether passing a class, graduating high school or attending college.

“Ty’unna and Iris have taught me lessons on persistence that are unparalleled. Most girls I work with at Pace Center for Girls are behind in school,” shared Lisa Spears, South Carolina Reach Program Director. “The enormity of the mountain they had to climb to make it to graduation cannot be understated.”

There is no question that young people are telling us that they are in a mental health crisis. The CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicated a startling 57% of teen girls—nearly 3 in 5—reported feeling “persistently sad or hopeless,” while 30% said they had seriously considered dying by suicide, an increase of 60% since 2011. These numbers are the highest they’ve been in the last decade. 

“I think people don’t take mental health seriously because some people aren’t going through mental health issues to the same extent as others,” Ty’unna said. “Mental health needs to be taken more seriously. People are dying because of the stigma.”

Young people, caregivers, behavioral health providers, and policymakers are calling attention to the issue through awareness campaigns and efforts to increase the availability of quality mental and emotional health services. There is an assumed stigma that can come with sharing mental and emotional health challenges. It is evident that Ty’unna and Iris are rewriting that narrative — starting with their community of peers.

“Wearing a stole that represents both my academic and emotional wellness journey gives me courage. I want everyone to know that I am a Pace girl, and I am going to walk extra slow so everyone can see it,” shared Ty’unna.

As first-generation college students, Ty’unna and Iris are eager to pursue their post-grad endeavors as students at Florence-Darlington Technical College. Ty’unna plans on becoming an esthetician while Iris plans on becoming a nurse.

As for the legacy both girls are leaving, Iris shared, “My success looks different than others. I’m the first Pace South Carolina graduate and the first person in my family to attend college. I’m wearing a stole that sends a message to my community, and I hope to inspire other girls to stand proud in who they are.”  


Amid the Youth Mental Health Crisis, Two Girls Find Strength From One Another

Amid the current youth mental health crisis, teen girls across the country are facing record levels of sadness and despair, with nearly 3 in 5 teen girls (57%) saying they felt “persistently sad or hopeless,” the highest in a decade. And a national shortage of school counselors means that many young people have limited access to support.

But there are signs of hope as teen girls are stepping in to become mental health responders for themselves and their peers.

Meet Dayna and Kiara

Dayna and Kiara first met working together and formed a close friendship. Kiara confided in Dayna, a Pace graduate, about her struggles with school and personal mental health challenges.

“Go to Pace — it has small classrooms and a nice, more hands-on environment,” Dayna recommended. “There are therapists as well if you ever want to talk about any issues.”

Dayna supported Kiara through her conversation with her parents about joining Pace, and after a meeting with counselors, Kiara enrolled.

We asked the girls what mental health awareness means to them.

“Accepting your issues and being open about them,” Dayna said, “Advocating for yourself, making sure that you know how to get the help you need.”

“When you feel like you are not alone,” Kiara said, “There are people that are there for you and can talk to you to help you through depression.”

As an introvert, Dayna said Pace pushed her to come out of her shell, which became the reason she advocated for girls to attend Pace.

“I feel like (Kiara) is my little sister,” Dayna said, “When I was going through my mental health struggles, all I wanted was someone to tell me that I wasn’t alone and that I had someone who cared.”

Since graduating in 2020, Dayna has referred a number of girls in similar situations to Pace.

When discussing the biggest challenges facing teen girls, the girls focused on three major issues: mental health, social media, and sexual harassment.

Before Pace, Dayna was reserved when talking about the issues she was facing. Pace helped her with her social anxiety by providing her with opportunities, including speaking at Pace Day at the Capitol.

“You have to be vocal about what you’re going through,” Dayna said. “If you’re not vocal about it, then no one’s gonna know how to help you.”

Today, Dayna is studying IT at Florida State College at Jacksonville. Kiara graduated from Pace in Spring 2023, plans on taking a gap year and going to Florida State College at Jacksonville as well to study business in order to eventually open up a bakery.

“I just wanted to be the person she (Kiara) could talk to,” Dayna said, “Let her know that she doesn’t have to go through everything by herself.”

The girls were asked to reflect on their younger selves and provide advice for going through life.

“Don’t listen to what people got to say, stay true to yourself,” Kiara said.

“Keep pushing. Keep fighting,” Dayna said. “Don’t let anything hold you back or get you down.”

On April 10th, the same day we got a chance to connect with the girls, Dayna and Kiara celebrated their friendship anniversary and decided to go out and commemorate it.

Kiara created an art piece to acknowledge THE PLAYERS Championship Village grant, which features her holding Dayna’s hand to celebrate their friendship and their care for one another.