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Oct
08

Teachers are Being Called on to Support Students Total Wellbeing

Teachers are increasingly being called on to be educators, counselors, and support systems for students. Schooling has been turned into a “universal large-scale experiment.” As of October of 2021, education in the United States has been impacted by COVID-19 for a year and a half.

While not alone, Pace Center for Girls has felt the push and pull of changes to learning, ways to support positive behavioral health, and how to provide a safe and trusting environment for our team members as well as our girls. We have experienced the deep systemic inequities of our families, differing approaches to dealing with stress, disrupted carefully crafted routines at our centers, and enhanced the vision of schools as “social-service providers and connectors”.

In the following PBS NewsHour Extra video, teens discuss feelings of negative thoughts, isolation, a desire to stay optimistic, and the need of love, support, and encouragement while going to school during the pandemic.

Although trauma-informed and trauma-responsive care is at the core of Pace Center for Girls services, this pandemic brings about new and challenging opportunities.

We, at Pace Center for Girls hear these concerns from our students as well. As we continue to live through, now the impact of the Delta Variant; dedicated educators and counselors at Pace Center for Girls continue to wrestle with how to ensure that collective care and responsibility for learning and self-care are constructed.

Our focus was and remains answering the question: How do we help balance our girls and team members’ physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing?

As our team members work diligently to support our girls, we have seen positivity and ingenuity through adoption of remote educational and social emotional technologies to help with this balance, improve grades, build good relationships with teachers and counselors, and ways to reduce class sizes.

  1. Microsoft Teams Video Conferencing allows our counselors and teachers to engage with our girls in both auditory and visual manners. Our National Office team members check in for counselors and teachers to assist in reducing anxiety a way for team members to participate in meetings, and easy access to classroom assignments.
  2. Smiling Mind App created by psychologist and educators, this mindfulness app assists with, staying connected, using self-care, and achieving emotional calmness.
  3. Wakelet provides a place for teachers to curate content and student a place to collaborate.
  4. Nearpod provides classroom curriculum that is tied to Florida Standards and allow the girls to engage our girls in remote and in classroom learning sessions.
  5. Google Classrooms to allow for creation, distribution and grading of lessons as well as assignments.
  6. Mentimeter, Poll Everywhere, and Padlet are all websites that encourage real-time response through live polls, quizzes and word clouds to check in with our girls and create engagement during group sessions and classroom lessons.
  7. Kahoot has a library of Social Emotional Lessons that help build empathy, provide opportunities to check in and even build resilience.

According to Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth, the key to success is grit. So, as we move through this unprecedented time, we need to remind ourselves of two things:

  1. The importance and continuation of providing self-care, and
  2. that having passion, perseverance, and stamina to ensure your achievement of future goals is our way toward a better future.
Sep
27

Elevating the Voice of the Girl

When working with girls and young women, it is important to understand the implications of Gender Pathways Theory.  This theory demonstrates that girls are often involved with the justice system for different reasons than boys, including the type of offenses, the reasons behind the behavior, and how the offenses are carried out.  The most common reasons women and young girls head down this path include victimization, mental health issues, and substance abuse.  In fact, sexual abuse is one of the primary predictors of justice system involvement for girls.  Therefore, prevention and early intervention strategies to steer women and young girls away from and out of the justice system must include holistic treatment designed specifically for girls who have experienced trauma, rather than punitive environments and practices that may likely cause additional trauma.

Gender-responsive models have key program elements aimed at enhancing protective factors. Protective factors are internal and external resources, such as positive adult relationships, problem-solving skills, and a sense of hope, that help minimize the impact of stress and adversity.  Understanding the existing gender differences during development, such as learning style and relational preferences, helps build an environment where girls can thrive.  

Creating emotional and physical safety is a core component of our model.  This sense of safety is woven throughout the design of the program space by spending time and energy developing authentic connections between girls and team members and providing girls choices to take ownership for themselves.  Effective gender-responsive models are collaborative, share power with girls, and give girls opportunities to use their voice and grow as leaders. A focus on understanding the intersection of multiple identities, such as race, gender, and sexual identity, and celebrating each girl’s sense of culture are also critical to the success of the program.

The outcome we hope to achieve is for girls to feel empowered, gain a sense of mastery, and focus on healing through goal planning that is steered by the girls themselves.  Girls bring with them a voice and successful gender-responsive programming provides elevation and amplification of those voices.

Aug
16

Community-Based Program Helps Girls Reach Their Full Potential

By: Aggie Pappas in partnership with The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

Originally published by The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Gender-responsive services cultivate girls’ strengths in an effort to boost protective factors in their lives and to help prevent future involvement with the justice system.

I have devoted much of my professional career to empowering girls and young women. Girls at risk of involvement in the juvenile justice system often face issues—such as exposure to violence, trauma, and mental health problems—that require a unique response, one the juvenile justice system is not well-positioned to address.

At the Pace Center for Girls we provide year-round, middle school and high school academics along with life skills, coaching, and counseling to girls who are involved in or at risk for involvement in the juvenile justice system.

The free program, which serves about 3,000 girls annually at 22 locations across Florida and Georgia, helps girls and young women heal from trauma, build prosocial skills, and reduce unhealthy behaviors.

Pace offers a comprehensive academic curriculum and social services, doubling the likelihood that participants will graduate high school, according to a 2019 study. The curriculum emphasizes a gender-responsive, strengths-based, and trauma-informed approach to help each girl cope with her past and prepare for the future. To start this transformation, we surround each girl with unconditional love, safety, and support.

OJJDP has supported Pace with multiple grants since our first center opened in 1985. Last year, OJJDP awarded Pace a 3-year, $425,000 grant to launch the Reach Counseling in Macon, GA. The grant paved the way for us to begin serving girls in Georgia, after launching the program at some of our Florida locations in 2009.

In contrast to our day centers, the Reach program focuses on behavioral counseling. Participants can receive therapy at a Pace center, at school, home, or another community site; or they can access it online. Girls can participate in group counseling as well.

The Reach Counseling program has been shown to help girls improve relationships with friends and family, improve their grades, develop concrete plans for the future, and deal with adversity. Our data also show that compared to 71 percent of program participants who had no involvement with the juvenile justice system when they started, 95 percent had no involvement with the juvenile justice system 1 year after completing Reach. The program served 980 girls in fiscal year 2020.

In response to community needs, we’ve added three new components to the Reach program:

  • New Day—A diversion and civil citation program for girls who have been arrested for minor offenses.
  • Family Strengthening—A family reunification program for girls at risk of being removed from their homes.
  • Healthy Girls—An independent transition program for girls leaving the foster care or juvenile justice systems.

While I’ve found it particularly gratifying to serve as a catalyst in the girls’ transformation, what stands out to me is their resilience. Pace has developed a proven model for providing girls an opportunity for a better future. I’ve seen it work time and time again.

Resources:

The OJJDP bulletin Girls in the Juvenile Justice System provides a statistical portrait of girls in the juvenile justice system, including trends in the demographics of this population, the offenses they committed, and how they move through the system.

OJJDP anticipates making seven awards under its fiscal year 2021 Reducing Risk for Girls in the Juvenile Justice System program. The program is intended to reduce risk factors and promote protective factors for girls who come into contact with the juvenile justice system, and place them on a path toward success.