Finding a safe place

She Academy helps young girls’ self esteem and life skills

Shaqualyn Shedrick founded She Academy three years ago.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

Helping an uncle make it through “a tough day” left an indelible impression on Shaqualyn Shedrick.

What transpired reassured her that starting up She Academy, a mentoring organization for young girls, was a necessary decision. 

“I’m about to make a decision that’s going to affect my life,” is how Shedrick recalled her uncle putting it when he reached out to her for help years ago. 

She had studied psychology as a minor when she was a student at FAMU and all of that know-how kicked in during the conversation. Shedrick listened to her relative who lives in Miami while she was on the other end of the phone in Tallahassee.

“We don’t talk often, but in that moment we were talking through things I could hear the shift,” she said. “I could hear the range.”

She didn’t give much detail about the incident, saying only that it involved a firearm. Eventually she talked her uncle down from what he was thinking and now he is “living free, happy with his daughter,” she said.

Just like she did to change her uncle’s mind and got him on a positive path, Shedrick is impacting the lives of each participant at She Academy.

 Shedrick, who is executive director, founded She Academy three years ago. It is part of a growing trend around the country, research has found. Those same studies say that mentoring generally has good effects on a young person’s development.

Some of She Academy’s primary areas of focus include leadership development, problem solving, college prep, financial literacy and self control. Participants say they feel empowered by their involvement in the organization.

Errianna Quallo, a recent Rickards High School graduate, was one of the first students to join the organization. At the time she was recruited as a freshman, she was in excellent academic standing and she also excelled as a student-athletes.

But she felt a need to join.

“I didn’t need help with my academic. I didn’t need help with sport, but what I needed help with was taking off the mask and being able to identify other problems that I had,” Quallo said. She added that she benefitted mostly in the areas of self care, loving herself and time management.

“She (Shedrick ) helped me to take care of my personal self so I could be filled so that I can fill the cup of others,” she said. “You can’t fill somebody on an empty cup.”

Since last September, She Academy has had a permanent home in the northern side of town off Metropolitan Boulevard. That is a long way from the days when Shedrick sometimes mentored from her home or even the library at FAMU.

Shedrick had volunteered to mentor students for Leon County School while holding down a fulltime job with FDLE. But she was limited to working with just one student. She took a leap of faith, retiring from FDLE, where she worked after earning a degree in criminal justice from FAMU in 2016. She went full time into mentoring, starting with 10 girls from the same class at Rickards High School.

Leaving a secured job came with a risk that Shedrick said she felt she had to take.

“It was no longer exciting for me,” she said. “I just spent my time with God, looking for purpose and direction and in the midst of just meditating things started to reveal themselves.”

The pandemic outbreak in 2020 slowed things a bit. Shedrick  went back to an old job at the Capitol and while there began to reassess her plans for She Academy.

Meanwhile, she collected clothing and books. She set up a curriculum, too. The program operates on the school year calendar.

Some of the typical things that She Academy participants do include writing affirmations to uplift spirits of the shut-in, writing journals and watching a documentary. They also have a workroom for after-school work.

Their schedule also includes hearing from professional writers, people in healthcare, educators and entrepreneurs.

The program is thriving through fund raising and supporters who offer in-kind services. It has also received grants and is supplemented by tuitions and resources through its affiliation with the United Partners for Human Services. 

The summertime schedule is primarily made up of what Shedrick calls a boot camp. Nia Walter, a rising eight-grader at Montford Middle School, joined around the start of the summer session.

The program impacted her life after the first week, she said.

“The first week was amazing. All the girls were very nice to me,” she said. “It is really a safe place to dig deeper, develop self-confidence and establishing boundaries.”