By CARL MARIO NUDI
Now that school is out, parents are looking for programs to keep their children occupied throughout the summer.
The Just For Girls summer program for young girls ages 5 through 17 started May 31 at the organization’s Leadership and Learning centers in Palmetto, West Bradenton, and East Bradenton.
Sharon Reid-Kennedy, director of the Palmetto Center at 1500 10th St. W., said activities are scheduled from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day for the two five-week sessions and include field trips, arts and crafts, creative and performing arts events, computer skills enhancement, and table games.
There also will be academic sessions to help the students maintain their reading and math skills during the summer break. National enrichment programs, such as KidzLit, KidzMath, Science Explorer, Summer Reading Challenge, and Book Club, are used during the academic portions of the summer program. “We want them to have an academic environment, but have fun exploring what’s around them,” said Reid-Kennedy, who has been with Just for Girls for 21 years.
“Manatee County Title I students experience an average learning loss of two months during the summer,” according to Just for Girls literature. But in 2018, Just for Girls students participating in the Summer Reading Challenge reduced their “summer slide” by 82%, with 35% of the students having no reading skill losses.
“The off-campus field trips are not only a treat for the students but also a learning experience,” Reid-Kennedy said. There are planned trips to Sky Zone trampoline park in Sarasota, Dakin Dairy Farm, a skating rink, museums, parks, and more.
“The summer program builds on the Just for Girls ‘ABC’ blueprint, or academics, behavior, and character,” said Alexandria Green, program director for all three centers. “The academics component includes language arts, math, and science; behavior element promotes good-decision making and communication skills; while character building encourages responsibility, respect, and believing in one’s self,” Green said.
“If we couple all three together, we will have a well-rounded, successful student ready for society,” she said. This is the philosophy the Just for Girls staff uses during all the programs it offers to young Manatee County girls.
Along with the summer program, Just for Girls runs a before and after school program, as well as two alternative education schools, an elementary school at its East Bradenton Center and a middle school at the Palmetto Center.
As its name implies, the Just for Girls alternative education schools are only for young girls. “It’s been found a lot of girls at this age have a lot of issues with boys being in the same class,” said Dee Ralph, principal of the middle school program in Palmetto.
According to an article on the National Education Association website, studies found “girls who learn in all-girl environments are believed to be more comfortable responding to questions and sharing their opinions in class and more likely to explore more ‘nontraditional’ subjects, such as math, science, and technology.”
The article also pointed out there are studies contradicting this clam, but even those studies concede, “some kinds of single-sex programs produce positive results for some students, including a preference for math and science among girls.” Ralph said that some girls when in a mixed-gender classroom don’t raise their hands in class even if they know the answer because they are afraid their male classmates will ridicule them.
“And also a lot of parents want their daughters in single gender classes,” she said. Another benefit for the young girls at the Just for Girls education program is the smaller class sizes. “We find a lot of girls are very quiet and respectful but are two to three grade levels behind in reading,” said Ralph, who has been with Just for Girls for 28 years. “So smaller classes benefit those with learning disabilities.”
Just for Girls contracts with the Manatee County School District to provide the alternative education program; all of its teachers are state certified.
The school district’s alternative education program is designed to meet the needs of at-risk students. The federal government recognizes students from low income families face barriers to a quality education. Many of the students in the Just for Girls education programs are eligible for Title I benefits.
Just for Girls literature highlights that its elementary school program had the second-highest gains in English language arts score among the 18 other alternative education programs in the Manatee County School District. During the 2017-18 school year, the Just for Girls elementary school had 87 students enrolled, and 68 girls were enrolled in the middle school. “This allowed for smaller class sizes, which are better for the students,” Green said. “We get to know the students personally,” she said. “We’re like a family here.
We also create an environment where parents feel comfortable to come in and talk with us,” Green added. About 56 percent of the students come from a household headed by a mother only, and 41 percent are of Hispanic ethnicity.
Just for Girls was established in January 1969 as Manatee County Girls Club, Inc. The Palmetto Center was opened in 1971. In 1992 the organization changed its name to Just for Girls, and in 1993 started the middle school alternative education program. The elementary school program began in 2016. According to Just for Girls literature, the alternative education program is “a haven for girls who are committed to turning their lives around after having had trouble succeeding in a traditional school.”
Green said all of the programs offered at Just for Girls provide young girls with options. “We don’t live in a one-size-fits-all world, so why box education into a one-size-fits-all plan when we have choices,” she said. “We have choices for many things: what kind and color of car, what size and brand of clothes, so why not provide a choice for education,” Green said. “At the end of the day, we will have competent young people.”
For more information about Just for Girls, visit the website at www.justforgirls.org or call 941-747-5757.
The National Education Association article on single-gender classrooms can be found at http://www.nea.org/tools/17061.htm.
To learn more about the Manatee County School District alternative education program go to www.manateeschools.net/Domain/1392 on the Internet.