PALMETTO -- A toothpick to pick out the good. A rubber band as a reminder to be flexible. An eraser to wipe out mistakes.
These were a few of the gifts given Wednesday to graduates of the Jane B. Pratt Alternative School Just for Girls during a special commencement ceremony for eighth-grade students.
Entrepreneur Gail Shane, the keynote speaker, gave the gift bags to students. The final gift: Play-Doh.
"You have the power to shape your future," Shane told the crowd gathered at the Woman's Club of Palmetto.
Seven of 10 graduates participated in the ceremony. The alternative school serves girls in grades six through eight who have trouble learning in the traditional academic setting. Students at Wednesday's ceremony had gotten in trouble with the law concerning drugs, had lost a parent or had moved
to this country and were facing language barriers, among other issues.
Adriana Cardenas, 14, shared her story. When Cardenas was in fifth grade, her mother died. Cardenas said she didn't have a good relationship with her dad at the time and felt like her world was turned upside down. She enrolled in Just for Girls in sixth grade, but didn't truly feel like she belonged. But her teachers made her feel right at home, she said.
In seventh grade, Cardenas was struggling again, she said. Another teacher reached out and helped her get back on track, she said. Cardenas was named the most improved eighth-grade student this year.
"I've messed up in the past, but the past is the past," Cardenas said, adding she now has a very good relationship with her father.
The theme of Wednesday's session was "Reaching New Heights." The accomplishments the girls have achieved so far fit the theme perfectly, said Just for Girls Chief Executive Officer Becky Canesse.
"It speaks to what you've been through," Canesse said.
To reach success, Canesse shared a few traits the girls would need, including a few they had already shown. Necessary traits for success include perseverance, surrounding themselves with great people and having a positive attitude.
"You can choose the attitude you have," she said.
When Brianna Garza entered the Just for Girls school in sixth grade, she didn't have a good attitude, she said. With help from dedicated teachers and staff, Garza learned to like school. In seventh grade, Garza got into trouble with the law when she brought marijuana into a classroom, she said. With the help of teachers and staff, Garza learned her lesson, she said.
Garza will attend Southeast High School next year and dreams of attending a four-year school to become a homicide detective.
"I'm going to miss it," she said of Just for Girls. "I definitely wish it had a high school."
Meghin Delaney, education report, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.