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Pace Center for Girls sets June 4 graduation day

By Staff | May 30, 2009

Over the next two weeks schools in Lee County will hold their graduation ceremonies to recognize students who have completed the requirements needed to hold a high school or equivalent diploma.
The Pace Center for Girls in Fort Myers, a non-residential education program for girls, will graduate seven teenagers on June 4 at Hodges University. Locally, the center works with at-risk girls between the ages of 12 and 18, who are set to drop out, are in trouble with the law, are pregnant or have substance abuse or other problems.
Rachel Clifton, 19, arrived in Cape Coral approximately two years ago from out of county. According to the center, she was leaving an abusive home where she experienced numerous problems in her family. She was enrolled at a local high school but fell behind because of constant truancy.
“I was truant and it was either get in trouble or you could try a new school,” she said. “I was technically in 11th grade but I was in ninth grade classes.”
Pace doesn’t only assist teenage girls with academics but it offers one-on-one counseling to help them through their personal troubles. Every morning before homeroom, the girls sit in a circle and discuss their short- and long-term obstacles before heading to class.
Clifton took regular high school classes in math, science, reading, and English. Another class called “Spirited Girls,” helps the students to learn about themselves. The school also uses NovaNET for online electives including a virtual physical education course.
Clifton earned 20 credits in just two years, and recently, the Uncommon Friends Foundation awarded her a scholarship to attend High Tech North. She said she wants to study culinary arts and one day open her own restaurant or bed and breakfast.
“I want to work at a bed and breakfast or work at my own,” she said.

Debbie Webb, executive director of Lee County Pace, said this is the center’s second graduation since it first opened in February 2007. Graduating is a tremendous accomplishment for the girls at Pace, said Webb, and many others successfully transition back to public school.
“It’s not like you typically graduate from Pace,” said Webb. “This is a big success for these girls, and we are proud of them.”
Girls who enroll at Pace usually have three or four risk factors, explained Webb. They are falling behind in schools, having trouble functioning in the school system, experience problems at home or are struggling with life issues.
“The purpose of Pace is to help girls feel better about themselves in terms of self esteem and get caught up,” said Webb. “Typically, they come in and we set academic goals for them and psychosocial goals.”
In describing he experience at Pace, Clifton said that she was on the wrong track and staff at the center showed her what she was capable of in school and life.
“I don’t always need other people; I can do it by myself,” said Clifton. “They really care, they aren’t here just for a job. They will bend over backwards to help.”