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PACE, Believing in Girls

Written by: Sherry Thompson Giordano, Executive Director at PACE Center for Girls
Edited by: J. Gigi Soliman, City of Miami Attorney’s Office

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PACE Center for Girls began in 1985 with one center in Jacksonville, Florida serving 10 girls. Today PACE has 19 centers throughout Florida, which serve over 2,000 girls each year. PACE has helped over 37,000 girls since its inception. The Miami Center is new – it has been operating for a year and half now. Sherry Thompson Giordano, Executive Director of PACE Miami, who has mainly worked in the for-profit sector most of her career, is bringing positive, for-profit best practices to this non-profit.

What Is PACE?

PACE Center for Girls is a completely voluntary prevention and intervention day center focused on academics, counseling, and creating social stability for high-risk girls. Working with public school officials, such as principals, counselors, teachers, and with juvenile system officials such as judges and probation officers, PACE Miami receives referrals for girls who want to learn skills to cope with the risk factors believed to lead to incarceration and poor scholastic performance.

The program begins with the girl voluntarily leaving her designated home school and enrolling in the PACE program at the local PACE center. Parents are required to sign a contract agreeing to the necessary terms to carry out the program, which ranges from 12-18 months. The program is an all-encompassing learning environment from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The program follows the Miami-Dade County school curriculum and testing requirements. However, with privately contracted teachers and counselors specifically vetted for this unique learning environment, the academic program is year-round, using the summer months for grade recovery or grade advancement.

Many girls come into PACE Miami behind their grade level and graduate successfully on par with their grade level. Some girls have even graduated ahead of their grade level due to additional credits that can be earned in the year-round program. PACE’s holistic approach helps teach other life skills vital to becoming a productive and healthy member of the community. Using a strength-based learning approach, PACE developed a 9-point Values and Guiding Principles system to encourage and educate girls to develop successful habits. When a student is exhibiting a positive behavior or exemplifying one of the guiding principles of PACE, the student is given a bead attributed to the specific Guiding Principle. When a girl demonstrates negative behavior, it is documented and the PACE counselor works with her to improve her behavior. At the end of the month all of the distributed beads are counted, and the girls can redeem the beads and shop at the small boutique located in the center. The system encourages the girls to focus on positive habits, and shows them how the negative habits impact their life poorly.

How is life after PACE?

PACE Miami first aims to have every girl complete their 12-18 month program. There are two phases to a successful transition out of PACE. First is the planned transition, in which a girl is re-enrolled in her designated home school, or, if she is eligible for graduation, PACE will have a graduation ceremony where she will receive a Miami-Dade County Public School diploma. If the girl is not eligible to receive a diploma, PACE will assist her to obtain a High School Equivalency diploma.

The second phase of transition is three years of assistance after a girl completes the PACE program. The Community Coordinator stays in contact with the girl to ensure all resources are available to the PACE Miami alumna. The three year assistance includes monthly calls, yearly visits with parents, and ensuring the PACE alumna may come in to the Center at any time and see the counselors or teachers for guidance. True to the motto, this aspect of PACE highlights: “Once a PACE girl, always a PACE girl.”

How can WCC help?

PACE is 100% free for the girls and their families. However, funding and resources is a persistent issue. Fifty percent of PACE’s budget comes from the Department of Juvenile Justice, and another twenty percent is provided by the Miami-Dade County Public Schools district. The remaining 30% of PACE’s budget comes from private donations, sponsorships, and grants.

As PACE Miami continues its second year, the need for members and volunteers is great. Miami PACE is beginning to create a consistent fundraising effort headed by individuals familiar with event planning, and executing fundraising efforts. Committee members, businesswomen willing to provide a seminar or presentation to the students, and women willing to be role models to the students are all vital to the success in this program in Miami and the success of our future women.

To learn more about PACE Miami, visit: www.pacecenter.org/centers/miami