Pace Center for Girls participates in College Girl Boot Camp at SJR State

by Penny Powell

PACE girls jumping in front of SJR State building

The thought of being a college student was unimaginable for many girls at the Pace Center for Girls; however, their vision shifted during the four-day College Girl Boot Camp they recently attended at St. Johns River State College (SJR State).

"College Girl Boot Camp is a powerful partnership between SJR State and Pace," said Clay County Pace Center for Girls Executive Director Destani Shadrick. "Designed specifically to meet the needs of our girls, this program creates future college students from high school students who never considered college a possibility. After Boot Camp, the girls are excited to attend college one day and ask informed questions as they tour colleges and discover opportunities. College Girl Boot Camp makes attending college real for our girls for the first time," Shadrick explained.

PACE girls in classroom

Coordinated by SJR State Career and Technical Education Advisor Jennifer Griner, more than 20 girls from the Pace Center for Girls in Clay and Jacksonville attended the College Girl Boot Camp. Each day had a theme that introduced the girls to college services, faculty and staff. “This way, the girls receive a broader look at how a college operates and get to meet and spend time with some of the many faculty and staff cheering for them and their success,” said Griner.

Because the unfolding of a great plan typically begins with a clear vision, SJR State Vice President for Development and External Affairs Caroline Tingle kicked off the camp with a visioning session, which she referred to as “a fun and informative tool to help students identify where they feel comfortable when they think of a career or potential job.”

With their eyes closed, the girls were asked to think about themselves 10 years from now. “They’re really just envisioning their life as a whole,” Tingle explained. “We take this necessary step of reflecting 10 years from now to help them see their ‘happy place’ - what it is they have a desire to achieve. Then, they work their way back by really honing in on specific questions about home, school and work and what it’s going to take to get them to that moment 10 years ahead.”

“Transitioning to College” was the theme of the second day of camp. To begin building their knowledge in this area, Student Activities Coordinator Jim Rogers spoke to the girls about student life, including the Student Government Association and how participating in campus clubs serves to enrich the college experience. Griner shared the College’s code of conduct and behavioral expectations. Director of Academic Advising Karen Thomas informed the girls about the varied college resources available to them, and Academic Advisor Joanna Simpson highlighted the benefits of staying informed and involved as a college student.

The girls learn stretching techniques

With so much to be involved in and potentially overwhelmed by, the third day of camp focused on the importance of finding a personal healthy balance of the mind, body and soul. During a presentation, which spanned life balance, time management and study skills, Academic Support Center Coordinator Michelle Mancil emphasized that the best way to master academic content is to able to teach it to someone.

Public Relations Communications Specialist Penny Powell communicated the importance of healthy eating, encouraging the girls to be mindful about their food choices. Working in groups, the girls filled blenders with organic spinach, mixed fruit and water to make and sample green smoothies. Powell also discussed the importance of using tools such as exercise and relaxation to de-stress by leading the girls through an hour-long “Stretch, Strengthen and Relax" session at the Thrasher-Horne Center. Bailey’s Health and Fitness donated 28 exercise mats for this purpose, which the girls were excited to take home with them.

On the final day of camp, which had a finance theme, the girls’ faces and voices lit up when Financial Aid Advisor Stevie Kenney told them about the variety of financial aid resources available to them. For many, that was the defining moment of fully realizing that college is also accessible to them.

Also present to help the girls become financially savvy were SJR State business professor Antoinette Richardson and Lori Wagner, vice president of Vystar – Oakleaf Branch, who also teaches business classes SJR State. Both used interactive styles to impart invaluable lessons about financial responsibility, including the importance of establishing a budget and sticking to it.

“My mission was to empower these young ladies to successfully make and carry out a plan for their financial future," said Richardson. "My approach was to help them understand the huge impact this has on many different areas of their lives – from buying a home to making smart retirement decisions, and even recognizing how this plan can affect personal relationships."

Girls making and trying green smoothies

A campus tour and career assessments were also part of the week’s activities. The camp concluded with a ceremony led by Pace Clay Community Coordinator Molly Stewart, who presented each girl with a completion certificate and a colorful flower, along with an SJR State “Be Well” T-shirt, compliments of the College’s Human Resources department.

Lisa, a 17-year-old Pace student who enthusiastically participated in the camp, said, “Pace girls get a really unique opportunity at SJR State. More colleges should offer programs like College Girl Boot Camp to local kids in their area. The big takeaway for me was how much the people at the College really care and are there to help."

Sophia, 14, also found it worth her while to attend the camp. “Boot Camp was a lot of fun, informative and very interactive," she said. “I would tell girls next year to come every day, take notes and pay attention.”

The Pace Center for Girls provides a free academic and enrichment experience for girls ages 11 to 18. The Center’s nurturing program is designed to give girls “a chance to re-group and catch up in school,” as well as be supported with future planning.

For more information about degree and workforce program opportunities at SJR State, visit



Susan Kessler
Director of Public Relations and Publications
(386) 312-4020