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Ormond Beach Observer Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 4 years ago

PACE Center teaches academic and social lessons for troubled girls

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Linda Costello hosted a luncheon for the girls of PACE, an alternative school for at-risk young ladies.

BY EMILY BLACKWOOD | STAFF WRITER

Hannah aspires to be a veterinarian because, unlike high school girls, animals can’t talk behind your back.

Previously a sophomore at Seabreeze High School, Hannah recently started attending PACE Center for Girls Volusia-Flagler, an alternative, 15-month school for at-risk young girls.

She said one of her main problems with her old school was one almost everybody can relate to: "fake" friends.

“At Seabreeze, I had friends but I knew they weren’t my friends, but I’d still pretend because I didn’t want to be left alone,” said Hannah, 16. “One time, I fell asleep in class and somebody actually taped something on my back. My friend wouldn’t let me see it, but people were laughing at me.”

One of Hannah’s most difficult obstacles to overcome has been her anxiety, which she credits to a lack of social skills. At PACE, Hannah said she’s gained more confidence, better friends and good grades. And she’s only been attending for a month.

“I don’t have to wear makeup everyday anymore,” Hannah said. “You feel more comfortable when you’re doing work. Whenever I go into math class now, I know I’m going to get at least one problem right. Whenever I do get out of PACE, I’m not going back to a normal public school.”

A lot of bullying and fights happened at her old school, she says, because teachers didn't stay on top of students.

“Last year, there was a huge riot in first period," she said.

District 4 Volusia County School Board member Linda Costello invited Hannah and seven other PACE girls for lunch at her house Friday, Feb. 7, to celebrate their achievements. Costello said she has had a few experiences with bullying with her granddaughter.

“The teacher’s idea of handling it was to ignore her,” Costello said. “Well, I’m sorry, but you need a few more tools to combat bullying then to ignore. It’s not a safe, secure place. If you tolerate it, guess what you’re going to have? Bullying. You get what you reinforce.“

She said that though she didn’t deal with the same issues, she applauds the PACE girls for rising above their circumstances.

“In the older days, it wasn’t like that,” Costello said. “We took care of each other.”

PACE Center for girls provides an equal balance of academic and social service support. Lori Richards, executive director, said the aim of the school is to address the students’ social and emotional well-being, as well as their academic success.

“We want to put them on a path that leads towards graduation and being a productive citizen,” Richards said. “We are a prevention program, and we ensure they get back on a good path. There is just an enormous network of support. Many of our girls have had attendance trouble because school is such an unhappy place.”

While skipping school definitely used to be a problem for Hannah, PACE has changed all that.

“I actually like going to school,” she said. “It is not like Seabreeze, where I would just hop the fence and leave. I think I’m with a lot more people that care about me at PACE.”

Call 944-1111.

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