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Overcoming Obstacles is Nothing new for Pace Graduates

by Rachel Mock – Photos by Ruby Media

Pace graduate Danielle credits her young son and the desire to give him a better future as her motivation to complete high school.

In a year that has been filled with the unexpected, one fact remained true for the 16 girls in Pace Center for Girls Escambia – Santa Rosa’s graduating class: 2020 was the year that they became high school graduates.

From the first day that girls enroll at Pace, they look up at the success stories that line the walls of the hallways and imagine the day that they too will get to wear their pink cap and gown. While young women arrive at the Pace doors for any number of reasons from family instability to academic failure to damaged mental health they all enter with the tentative hope that they will become high school graduates.

Now in their 26th year of local service, Pace serves girls through three distinct programs: Day, GED and Reach. The Day Program provides year-round academic instruction with an intensive counseling program for girls ages 11 to 18. Offering both middle and high school curriculums with highly personalized programming, this program allows girls to retrieve lost credits, advance in their grade level and return to their district school or graduate from Pace.

Since opening in 2016, their Girls Earning Diplomas (GED) Program remains available to girls enrolled in the Day Program and offers intensive remediation and preparation for completion of the GED while still receiving the social services component. Pace Reach Services feature a therapeutic prevention program designed to meet the needs of at-risk girls where they are - at home, school or in the community. With highly flexible and mobile services provided by Reach Therapists, Pace girls increase their self-esteem, develop social and relationship skills, make positive decisions and become independent young women.

Marissa is overcome by emotion as Pace Staff honors the graduate's accomplishments during their socially distanced ceremony.

Like so many other organizations, this nationally recognized agency was affected by the unexpected changes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to reshaping their classroom and care management methods, Pace was forced to push back their annual graduation celebration held each spring to honor the hard work and accomplishments of their graduates.

Forced to be innovative, Pace staff coordinated a walkthrough graduation ceremony at their center in late August. Each graduate and her family were given an appointed 15 minute timeslot where they could gather on the center’s back patio, receive a diploma, hear a brief speech, take professional graduation portraits and be celebrated for their numerous achievements while at Pace. Each graduate was then given a box filled with small gifts along with graduation party supplies such as plates, napkins, balloons and streamers along with a gift card to the grocery store. Graduates were encouraged to shop for a nice dinner and host an at-home celebration with their families that evening with the provided supplies. All girls and families were then invited to a live Virtual Graduation Celebration that evening, where staff and graduates shared special speeches honoring all Pace 2020 graduates. All efforts were made to provide the girls a special evening, and for many of the girls, the act of walking down the pathway earlier that afternoon to the sounds of “Pomp & Circumstance” was the special moment that brought tears to their eyes; their dream of graduating had become their reality.

New graduate Patience beings her graduation walk from Pace Center for Girls' new addition - the Bear Family Foundation Center for Hope - where she earned her GED

Class of 2020 graduate Genesis proudly walks to the sounds of 'Pomp and Circumstance' during Pace Center for Girls' socially distanced ceremony.

Since completing their time at Pace, these girls have gone on to secure employment, enroll in college or vocational school and support their families. Despite the obstacles and challenges they have experienced in their lives, these resilient young women are now the inspiring faces that will hang in the halls of the center and inspire future generations of Pace girls to say “she did it and I will too.”

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