PACE mentors young women

Keyshia Robinson, whose name is changed to protect her privacy, is looking forward to the end of December when she will be able to transition to a public high school. First, she has to complete her studies at the Practical Academic Cultural Education center, also known as PACE. Robinson, 15, decided to attend PACE after she fell behind on the required class credits needed to be promoted to the next grade level. Robinson is the third person in her family to attend PACE after her two older sisters.

“I was behind in my school work, and my sister told me if I come here, then I would be able to catch up and graduate on time, so that’s how I came,” Robinson said.

PACE is not a regular public school, but is specifically designed for females ages 12 – 18. The program helps these teenagers academically and provides counseling, life management, parental involvement and student volunteer service projects. For Robinson, being a “PACE girl” has really changed her behavior.

“When I first got here, I had a very angry attitude problem, but now I know it’s been controlled,” said Robinson. “I had to learn how to keep certain things in and not get so upset about little stuff.”

The program was founded to help young females from dropping out of school and to encourage them to receive their diplomas or GEDs.

The JJIS Risk Factor Study revealed that, prior to girls enrolling in PACE, about 65 percent were failing one or more classes, and more than 55 percent were expelled or suspended in the past year. But, as a result of the teenagers being a part of this program, they improved academically.

“PACE has a 95 percent success rate. So let’s just say a girl came in, and she was reading on a second grade level. By the time she leaves, she may be reading at a sixth grade level, but you can see that’s four steps that the girl has improved in,” said Lashawn Gordon, the social service manager for PACE.

The young ladies attending PACE are able to work at their own speed depending on how fast she completes her studies. If a girl finishes a years’ worth of English in a semester, then she will take a comprehensive exam. test. If she passes, she can move up to the next portion of classes instead of waiting an entire year. Transitioning into PACE is a different experience when students are familiar with how the public school system operates.

“The teachers here have more patience than regular teachers at a regular school, and they tolerate a lot of stuff that most teachers wouldn’t,” Robinson said. “I know I’m not the best student every day, and they work with me even when I don’t want to work with myself.”

For students who may have been in the juvenile detention system, attending PACE and one-on-one counseling has prevented further trouble.

“A lot of our girls may come in with legal sanctions, but by the time they leave the program, they haven’t reoffended or anything; they have been able to maintain and get off probation,” Gordon said.

The program not only transformed Robinson’s perception on life but it has also increased her faith.

“Before I got here, I didn’t really pray. My Spirited Girls teacher [is] a pastor and teaches you how to deal with life, and if you pray, everything will be alright,” Robinson said. “Now I pray.”

Robinson has found a newfound ambition through her studies at PACE.

“I want to graduate (high school),” said Robinson. “I want to go to FSU, and I want to be a lawyer.”