JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

The Department of Juvenile Justice has awarded a $64,076 grant to continue Girl Matters®: It's Elementary, an in-school suspension intervention program for girls in grades K-5 piloted at George Washington Carver Elementary and North Shore Elementary.

The program is a partnership between DJJ and The Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center to prevent girls from involvement in the juvenile justice system.

"The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice places emphasis on reaching youth before they become involved in the juvenile justice system," said Christy Daly, interim secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice. " In Duval County, 11 percent of juvenile arrests occur at school, and of all girls coming in contact with the juvenile justice system, 69 percent had a suspension history. By intervening at an early age, we are able to improve the school experience and reduce girls' likelihood of entering the juvenile justice system."

The preliminary results of the pilot indicate that the number and rate of suspensions for girls decreased at the schools. More significantly, suspensions continued to decrease year to year. The Policy Center will release the results of the pilot at the beginning of August.

"The success and continuation of this program is an example of deep community collaboration with the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Duval County Public School Board, elementary schools, teachers, principals and funders," said Lawanda Ravoira, president and CEO of the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center. "The reality is that girls have a lot happening in their lives but don't always have the skills to process their emotions, causing them to act out. We want to encourage teachers and service providers to see the girl, not just the behavior."

School administrators say they have already seen an impact from the program.

"The girls now initiate conflict resolution among themselves; they are self-motivated, and have a more positive outlook on life and their future success. I never want it to leave North Shore," said North Shore Principal Felicia Hardaway.

The schools selected for the pilot were originally chosen because they had the highest elementary school suspension rates in Duval County. The pilot program provided prevention services for more than 400 girls and provided intensive intervention services for an additional 293 girls in K-5.

When girls were asked if the program was helpful, a fourth-grader at George Washington Carver Elementary said, "I trust everybody in Girl Matters because they're not harming me. They're helping me learn. And sometimes we don't just learn, we play."

The demonstration project was initially funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and community partners in 2008. The Department of Juvenile Justice grant will enable care managers to train community volunteers providing long-term sustainability within each school.