MIAMI, Fl. — Women and girls often take on more of the emotional burden when families experience sudden loss, poverty, and trauma.
A report from The Center for American Progress noted young girls are more likely to face long-lasting effects of childhood trauma, and young girls of color are even more adversely impacted.
At 15 and 17 years old, math problems should be their only problems, but for the girls attending Pace School for Girls in Miami, life handed them a more complicated equation.
Anahjae S. will graduate high school this year without three of the most important people in her life.
She lost two of her brothers; one in a dirt bike accident, the other in a shooting.
“He was in a lot of trouble. Always out in the streets, you know, violence, all of that. So, he got into lots of hate with the police, and they killed him,” Anahjae said.
Then this year, COVID-19 took the man she looked up to the most.
“I recently lost my father. It was just very tough for everyone.”
Fifteen-year-old Ki’Marrea M. knows that feeling of loss too.
“My stepmom passed away, and I'm not over it, but I'm over it. It still hurts me a lot. And, my uncle, they died in the same week," Ki'Marrea said.
With so much going on at home, school became an afterthought.
“I wasn't really thinking about finishing high school,” said Anahjae.
“I didn’t have a future, I didn’t….I thought I was going to die young,” said Ki’Marrea.
Both Anahjae and Ki’Marrea experienced bullying, and it left them both seeking a new school and a fresh start.
That’s where the Pace School for Girls came in.
“The girl is at the very center of everything we do,” said Sherry Thompson Giordano, who runs the school.
The school is a small, all-girls environment that adds therapy into the school curriculum. The girls learn self-confidence and life skills alongside math, English and other typical school subjects.
“When girls are able to heal in an all-girl environment, there's a sense of safety,” said Social Services Manager Ereka Romero.
Romero said without support, the consequences of untreated trauma can be severe.
“It can lead to mental health issues, that can lead to domestic violence, substance use issues. You know, it could lead to death. They have the opportunity at their age to change the course of their life," Romero said.
With research showing young girls experience more childhood trauma and feel the effects of that trauma more deeply than young boys, this school is more needed than ever.
At Pace, the girls learn to break the cycle of pain, poverty, and trauma with communication.
“It really is about teaching the girls how to communicate, how to identify their feelings, and how to learn how to deal with conflict in a positive way,” said Romero.
Thompson Giordano said she’s seen these skills not just help the girls, but their families and communities, too.
“Our girls are coming from a very violent and turbulent communities, and so what they're able to learn is that they can break the multi-generational cycle of poverty. It allows them obviously to realize their full potential, come back and contribute back to their community and to their society,” said Thompson Giordano.
She said the conflict resolution skills the girls learn at Pace will hopefully help not only the girls, but their families cope with the pain they’ve experienced.
Romero said the skills the girls learn here can have an impact far past the individual girl.
And with each day spent there, these young women feel the power they hold.
“They make you feel great about yourself,” said Anahjae.
“Now, I'm like, 'You're not going to die young without, like, people knowing your story,'” said Ki’marrea. “I have a future now. I have a future!”
Both young women are studying hard for a future in healthcare helping others.
“My goal is to become an obstetrician,” said Ki’marrea.
That future is rooted in resilience, and it is one they now know is real.
“You can do anything you put your mind to,” said Ki’Marrea.
Pace School For Girls is always looking for volunteers and supporters. If you’d like to get involved with helping young women, click HERE.