JIS News

In a time when solutions are being sought to the problems of indiscipline and underachievement among young people, there is one programme that stands out as a beacon of hope for what could be achieved through positive intervention.
The ‘Change from Within’ programme (CFW) has been working successfully to reshape students’ self-perceptions and foster positive values and attitudes in a number of inner-city primary and all-age schools.
According to Dr. Tony Sewell of the University of Leeds, who wrote an early article on the programme, “it attempts to move beyond an exclusive focus on academic performance”, by promoting a child-centred approach to teaching where children’s emotional and developmental needs are addressed through partnerships with communities, parents and the larger society.
The programme started in 1992, when the late Sir Phillip Sherlock, then former Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, set up an ad hoc committee of university educators, to look into the rising levels of crime and violence within the society and to find out how education could provide solutions.
Four schools were initially identified to be part of the research: St. Peter Claver, Charlie Smith High, Treadlight and Friendship Primary, which were located in inner city communities in Kingston.
All four schools were tackling with some degree of success, the problems of low self-esteem, by utilizing the positives among the students to bring about change.
Margaret Brisset-Bolt, principal of St. Peter Claver, remembers that when she took up the position in 1988, she found a school that was in a poor state.
Violence had reduced enrolment at the school to 310, which was one-third of capacity, the student body suffered from low self-esteem, the teaching staff was despondent and like the parents, agreed that nothing good could come from the school.
The new principal quickly realized however, that there was still hope for the school and its students and set about identifying the positives among the student body. Mrs. Brissett-Bolt found that they had a love for popular music, most of which they could easily memorise and set about using the medium of music to improve discipline and academic performance in the school and build self-esteem among the students.
While there was some success from the initiative, she realised that a lot more needed to be done, and was glad for the intervention of the ‘Change from Within Programme’ in 1992.
According to CFW Programme Coordinator, Pauletta Chevannes, the use of music as a platform for teaching students at St. Peter Claver resulted in improvements in language and reading and the children began to believe in their self worth.
Teachers also realized the positive impact of using music to enhance learning and they began to find even more innovative methods to teach. The impact of this new method of teaching was evident in the dramatic increase in Common Entrance Examination (CEE) passes at the school, from one in 1995 to eight in 1996, to 15 the following year and it continues to rise year by year.
In addition, senior teacher at the school, Trevor Dixon, notes that, “there has been improvement in students, they are kinder, gentler and they can now solve their problems without fuss. Standards have improved, grades are better and they even do their own research and are alert.”
Now operational in 30 primary and high schools and two teachers colleges, Mrs. Chevannes points out that the key to continued success of the programme lays in the fact that “there is no magic in CFW’s process for change in schools but a methodology that focuses on effective leadership and the positive qualities of the students”.
The seven methodologies by which the CFW works and has achieved success are: leadership training, working on the positives, developing new pedagogies, mentoring, having circles of friends, involving parents and the wider community, and involving students.
Mrs. Chevannes tells JIS News that one of the key elements in creating change in the schools is that of leadership, whereby principals are expected to initiate or facilitate changes. She notes that wherever there are principals with vision, positive changes occur, as they are able to see beyond the day-to-day management of problems and believe in the capacity of the children to change.
The principals involved with CFW create a ‘circle of friends’ whereby they draw on the leadership of the schools to form a mutually supportive network. This has proved to be an important element in building partnerships and support.
“The circle of friends allows principals to empower each other. We get to encourage and share ideas with each other,” says Angela Chaplin, principal of Vauxhall High, where the programme is now in place. Mrs. Brissett-Bolt agrees, telling JIS News that the ‘circle of friends’ provides a “shoulder to lean on” and principals can share both positive and negative experiences.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Chevannes says that finding the factors that can influence desired changes in the schools is at the core of CFW’s functions and is very important towards achieving success.
At Charlie Smith, football was identified as the key element towards creating positive changes, while the student’s love for farming and speech and drama were the components towards change at Treadlight and Friendship Primary, respectively.
“The difference between the CFW schools and other schools is that the leadership and the entire school treat the music, the sports, the performing arts as positive mediums for developing discipline and raising self-esteem,” Mrs. Chevannes explains.
“I have found that children who play instruments are less aggressive,” agrees Mrs. Chaplin, noting that at Vauxhall, music and instrument studies have been incorporated into the school’s curriculum.
Finding innovative and creative ways to teach students is also a method that CFW seeks to implement, Mrs. Chevannes informs, noting that, “most of the schools have found innovative and unconventional methods of teaching in order to gain and hold the interest of the students.”
These methods include journal writing, which allows students quiet time to reflect; principal’s hour to engage students in issues about the governance of the school; using clubs as a means of self-expression and personal development and responding to gender specific needs such as using football to teach mathematics to boys.
Involving parents and the wider community is very important to the longevity of the programme, Mrs. Chevannes notes. “Parental involvement is critical to the sustainability of the change process. All the schools therefore have to find innovative ways to involve the parents and the focus is on the strengthening of the traditional school-home network, the PTA,” she explains.
This method has resulted in parents being drawn into school activities, becoming more aware of their children’s progress and visiting the schools more often. “They see themselves as partners in the process of having a responsibility in determining the educational and social development of the children who attend their school. They become co-owners,” the programme coordinator points out.
Mrs. Brissett-Bolt notes that at St. Peter Claver, CFW continues to empower parents through workshops and they are given certificates for participating in sessions.
Mr. Dixon, who was able to acquire a university degree through the programme, says that the community involvement sees parents being more involved, taking care of school plants, attending parent seminars and giving suggestions. “Even the young men in the community come in to assist us at the school,” he reveals.
Engaging students is part of the success of the programme. Mrs. Chevannes notes, “they have to be centrally involved in this process and their opinions and skills have to be seriously engaged in the change process”. In some of the schools, students were given the opportunity to become more involved in school policies when they were allowed to choose the students to be prefects and leaders. At Pembroke Hall High, they are also consulted on the cafeteria menu choices.
“The students’ active involvement in the school has resulted in improved discipline and academic performance,” says Mrs. Chevannes.
Jevon Jones, a grade six student at St. Peter Claver, tells JIS that the programme has resulted in a better attitude towards schoolwork for him and his fellow students. “It has helped us a lot to change our attitudes towards our schoolwork. My friends appreciate the programme,” he informs.
He says the programme has allowed him and his schoolmates to gain access to resources that were not previously available. “In the lower grades, we did not have access to computers. We now have a knowledge centre, which provides information. We also have clubs like the technology club, which helps us a lot,” he explains.
To ensure that the programme impacts as many students as possible, the CFW has joined forces with the Ministries of Education, Youth and Culture and National Security to launch the Safe Schools Programme, which is aimed at curbing the rising levels of violence in schools. According to Mrs. Chevannes, CFW is committed to using one of its most outstanding features, that of leadership training to assist with the Safe Schools Programme.
“We are committed to working with the Safe Schools Programme to offer services in areas of leadership and use data to track the progress of the programme.
Mrs. Chevannes further notes that CFW, in working the Safe Schools Programme, will not change and will continue to work towards its current aim of producing well rounded children being able to deal with conflicts and who are able to think and articulate their thoughts.
An important element of the Safe Schools Programme is mentorship provided by police, which are attached to the schools as resource officers. This is an area that the CFW has been addressing and has been training teachers to be more adept at managing.
“All the schools at some point in time had to come to grips with the idea of the teacher as a mentor; the teacher as a mentor becomes concerned for and involved with the development of the total child,” Mrs. Chevannes pontificates.
She further adds that through mentoring, the school takes on the role of ensuring that the child develops a sense of self, security, and the capacity to grow. CFW will also assist in monitoring the progress of the Safe Schools Programme through data collection.
CFW has not been operating without its fair share of challenges and one major challenge has been the limited number of resource persons. Mrs. Chevannes tells JIS News that presently, she is assisted by a small staff including a research fellow, who carries out a large portion of the fieldwork required. The small staff has reduced the number of schools that the programme can reach.
“We have received numerous requests from schools to become a part of the programme but we have had to turn down these requests due to our small numbers,” she explains. She however, reveals that the programme has received an offer of a consultant to provide assistance.
CFW has also received sponsorship from Grace Kennedy, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and UNESCO, which in 1996 sponsored a documented booklet of the programme titled ‘The Story of Four Schools.’ The programme currently operates under the Institute of Education in the Faculty of Humanities and Education at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus.

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