Girl Matters: It’s Elementary leads to be drop in problems
A program at two Duval schools that helps girls avoid suspension or referrals to the juvenile justice system is getting new funding and an expanded future.
Girl Matters: It’s Elementary received a $64,000 grant from the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice to sustain the program — which provides counseling, therapy and mentoring to elementary school girls — and to help train more volunteers and mentors.
The Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center operates the program in partnership with Duval Schools and juvenile justice. The 4-year-old program has helped about 400 girls at George Washington Carver and North Shore schools, which several years ago had the most girls suspended among elementary schools in the district.
“This program is so important because school failure is a major factor in girls entering the system,” Christy Daly, interim secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice, said. “By intervening at an early age, we are able to improve the school experience and reduce girls’ likelihood of entering the juvenile justice system.”
In 2010, when the program began, there 849 girl suspensions in Duval, said Lawanda Ravoira, president of the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center.
In Duval County 11 percent of juvenile arrests occurred at school, and 69 percent of girls in contact with juvenile justice had been suspended before. Added Ravoira: “The No. 1 risk factor for involvement in the juvenile justice system for girls was school failure. We were really putting them on a fast track to the juvenile justice system. … There was a focus on behavior, not the trauma and stressors driving that behavior.”
Girls who act out often are coping with personal trauma, Ravoira said. Among the program’s students: 46 percent had a parent or caregiver in jail, 35 percent had parents lose a job, 13 percent experienced death of a primary caregiver, 26 percent experienced death of a close friend or relative, and 29 percent were living away from parents.
Girl Matters gave school staff an alternative to suspensions. At each school about two dozen or so mentors and Girl Matters staff daily help girls learn to communicate anger or sadness without acting out, to cultivate safe relationships and to have a healthy self-esteem.
A program directed at girls can be tailored to their relationship priorities and styles of communication.
“Girls’ lives are really centered around our relationships, so building those relationships and safety in relationships becomes really critical,” Ravoira said.
“Girls have higher rates of sexual abuse and physical abuses, and they also report higher rates of mental health issues. They have a tendency to internalize abuse and turn it on themselves, so there are higher rates of cutting and self-mutilation among girls.
Boys react to stressors differently, she said; they’re more likely to externalize it by fighting other kids, for instance.
At both schools, the suspension rates among girls have fallen, she added.
At North Shore, suspensions among girls fell from 80 per 100 girls in the 2011-12 school year, to 30 per 100 in the last school year. Similarly, at George Washington Carver, suspensions dropped from 64 per 100 girls to 15 per 100.
“The impact that the program has had on the girls at North Shore Elementary is unbelievable. The girls now initiate conflict resolution among themselves; they are self-motivated, and have a more positive outlook on life and their future success,” said Principal Felicia Hardaway.
For more information, to apply for a college internship or volunteer, go to www.seethegirl.org.
Denise Amos: (904) 359-4083