Program offers girls a chance to change
Students can get tutoring, social skills instruction, education in substance abuse and more at the Enoch Davis Center.
By DONNA WINCHESTER
Published April 3, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - Ask Alicia Forbes when her life started unraveling and she'll tell you things started going downhill last fall.
That's when she entered the maelstrom of middle school after the relative calm of elementary school.
Suddenly, the 12-year-old was surrounded by twice as many students. She was changing classes every period instead of spending all day in one place. The atmosphere was charged with emotion, and it seemed that everywhere she turned, a potential conflict lurked.
Her grades dropped. She got into a couple of fistfights with other girls. She walked around in a bad mood all the time.
Then one day Alicia saw a flier for a new program aimed at middle and high school girls who live in Midtown. The flier promised homework help, an opportunity to develop personal skills, and a place to hang out after school. She talked it over with her mom and they decided she would give it a try.
That was in September. Since then, Alicia's grades have improved from C's and D's to A's and B's. It's been a long time since she's gotten into a fight. Best of all, she is much happier with herself and her life.
On Feb. 9, Alicia was among a dozen girls who attended the first graduation ceremony for Chance 2 Change, an after-school program housed at the Enoch Davis Center and funded by the Department of Juvenile Justice. Run by the Juvenile Services Program, a nonprofit corporation that has been delivering youth services for more than 25 years, it offers tutoring, social skills instruction and education in substance abuse, crime prevention and teen pregnancy prevention.
Lead teacher Shirley Abrams, a dropout prevention teacher for Pinellas County Schools, said Chance 2 Change was designed for children such as Alicia.
"The program is specifically geared to girls who are at risk of dropping out of school and who may be susceptible to peer pressure," Abrams said. "It gives them options and teaches them to communicate better."
Abrams, 59, knows firsthand that the program works. Two of her granddaughters, Sade Eberhardt, 16, and Sharika Eberhardt, 14, were also in the first graduating class.
"Sade didn't get into trouble, she just wouldn't attend school," Abrams said. "Now she has all A's. She shows up for school every day and she takes pride in doing her homework."
About three dozen girls have taken advantage of the program since it began, Abrams said. They are encouraged to come every day, although there is no penalty if they miss a day. They complete an intake assessment before they start the program, and Abrams stays in close touch with their teachers throughout the 18-week course.
"These young ladies are so negative when they come in," she said. "Watching them make decisions to attend school and accept responsibility is a gift."
On a recent afternoon, six girls sat around a table in a back room of the Enoch Davis Center talking about their relationships with their parents. One of the girls said she was "having a problem" with her dad because he didn't want her talking to older boys.
Abrams suggested that perhaps her dad was trying to protect her. She encouraged the girl to ask her dad why he feels the way he does - and then to be willing to listen to his answer.
Realizing the girl wasn't buying it, she switched gears.
"How many of you plan to finish your high school diploma?" she asked.
All hands went up.
"Well," Abrams said, "maybe your parents want you to focus on staying in school and getting good grades."
At the end of the session, she gave them a character trait to focus on: following directions.
"That's part of being responsible," she told them.
An important component of the program has been guest speakers from the community who talk on a range of topics from citizenship to sexually transmitted diseases, said Isabella Cox, Juvenile Services' executive director. She assists Abrams in bringing in speakers who help the girls with goal setting, conflict resolution and job search skills.
At the heart of the program is the academic component, Abrams said. She does her best to make learning fun for the girls so they stay excited about their schoolwork.
TO LEARN MORE
Chance 2 Change, a free after-school program for middle and high school girls who live in Midtown, is housed at the Enoch Davis Center, 1111 18th Ave. S. Call the Juvenile Services Program, 535-4789, for information.
[Last modified April 3, 2005, 00:09:18]
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