JIS News

Students, who participated in the National Youth Service’s (NYS) inaugural Success Camp, have come away with some invaluable lessons, among them the importance of staying in school and resolving conflict without violence.
And, with schools reopening within two weeks of the camp, which closes today (August 29), students should be better adjusted and better prepared to take on the challenges of the new school year.
Some 300, students identified as being at risk, participated in the residential reorientation and behaviour modification programme, held from July 20 to August 9 at Holmwood Technical High School in Manchester, and from August 12 to 29 at Oberlin High School in St. Andrew. They were housed in batches of 150 each at both sites. Reverend Adinhair Jones, Executive Director of the NYS, explains that the idea for the camp arose out of requests by secondary school principals, led by Angella Chaplin of Vauxhall High school, for something to be done to reach students, who were at risk of becoming expelled due to behavioural problems.
The principals found that at least 20 students each year were considered socially unfit for the school system. These students robbed and attacked other students with weapons, disrupted classes, had no regard for authority, were non compliant with school rules, were truant and had poor academic performances.
“The intervention is predicated on the view that students can experience personal transformation, providing that a conducive environment is given to them, that we carry out behavioural modification in a group context, and that we have a post camp programme of mentoring and counselling the students and making referrals to experts in various areas,” Rev. Jones explains.
The camp was also a follow up to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture’s 2002 Truancy Camp, a residential programme for troubled teenage boys, which was held in Nut Shell, Trelawny. “Out of the truancy camp, we had a study done by Dr. Claudette Crawford Brown of the University of the West Indies, Mona, and based on the recommendations coming out of that study, we were able to cull some of the important elements needed to organize this camp,” Rev. Jones points out.
On August 9, the first batch of students graduated from the Holmwood camp and the Executive Director tells JIS News that there are clear signs of transformation among the students. “We think the participants, having completed the camp, is a good signal first of all. Some schools had agreed that only if the students completed the camp would they be allowed back into the schools, and so we are satisfied that based on their completion that they will be placed back into the schools and appropriately integrated,” he says.
Continuing he adds, “we have already begun to see visible signs of transformation from the students based on their feedbacks and from what the parents have been saying and so by and large, we have set a stage for the harder work, which is to work with them in counselling and mentoring on a regular basis to keep them on track”.
The participants also believe that they have taken a lot from the camp. Colleen Buchanan, a 14-year old who was among the first group of beneficiaries, tells JIS News that although the camp was ‘really hard’, she learnt a lot from the experience.
“Time management was hard at first because we had to get up by 4:30 a.m. and go to our beds early, but in time I managed. My time management skills improved a lot,” she says.
Marlon Gibson, another student, says he left the camp with high self-confidence. “I learnt a lot from the camp, especially the value of time, discipline and good exercise. We had to learn to speak out loud and not get stage fright and this developed my confidence. I feel good about it,” he notes.
Several techniques were utilised to reach the students such as anger management and conflict resolution sessions, counselling, social studies, literacy and numeracy and diagnostic tests, sports and cultural activities as well as parenting workshops.
“We also did psychometric testing to get a sense of persons psychological and emotional wellness and we also did tests to determine their social orientation. We also did studies of the participants background,” Rev. Jones points out.
He explains that a key aspect of the intervention programme was the parent orientation sessions. “The parents went onto the camp and went through sessions with and without their children and the children entertained them with cultural expos at the end of the sessions and they were all committed to attending the parent workshops, so I can say there has been very positive inputs from all involved with the programme,” he informs.
Personnel from the Jamaica Defence Force were also present to enforce discipline and prevent and quell any fights. They also provided logistics support and facilitated physical training.
In respect of the students, Reverend Jones explains that they were apprehensive at first, especially about the presence of the soldiers, but they eventually warmed to the proceedings. “They were a bit resistant initially but as they got through the orientation and the first week, the camp grew on them and they were generally settled,” he informs.
He says that there were a number of fights initially but the management of the camp was prepared for such occurrences and “this was where the anger management sessions became timely interventions. We expected the conflicts and so we had the appropriate infrastructure to deal with them when they happened. We found that the anger management and conflict resolution elements of our intervention were extremely important.” Citing the seeming inability to peacefully resolve conflict at the camp as a mirror of the Jamaican society, Reverend Jones points to a recent finding by the World Bank on a study of Caribbean nations, which shows that a disturbing 40 per cent of the youth population had anger management issues.
These findings, he notes, coupled with the experiences at the camp, gave him and other camp counsellors a greater appreciation of the importance of the exercise.
The six-week camp was held at a cost of $9 million with the NYS providing $3 million of the amount, the Jamaica Securities Dealers Association (JSDA) put in another $3 million and the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) chipped in with $1 million. Additional sponsorship came from entities such as Super Plus, Mayberry Investments, Jamaica National and the Jamaica Money Market Brokers (JMMB).
The camp was supported under the NYS and Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ), ‘Private Sector Partnership in Programmes for Youth’ project.
In terms of the camp becoming an annual event, Rev. Jones says, “we are studying now how we go forward. We may want to ensure that beyond just the number of behaviourist that we have at the camp, that we also have some visiting specialists who can come on a day and do sessions that would take the participants to another level in terms of their understanding of what is happening to them and how to deal with these issues”.
He further informs of additional features that could be included in future camps. “We want as well to ensure that we have the kind of physical facilities where we can do some of the physical aspects of anger management, where people can go into a room and deal with some of their anger management as is done in places such as the United Sates,” he adds. Rev. Jones says that a major concern was the health problems, which a number of students brought with them, and the camp management would be looking at getting a doctor to visit the camp on a regular basis.
A comprehensive post camp evaluation will be carried out in which the participants will be monitored through mentoring and follow up sessions, to track their behavioural improvement, Rev. Jones indicates. And, his final word to students for the new school year; “Persons are very interested in your well being and it is very important that you stay in school”.