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The ongoing efforts by state agencies to curb antisocial behavior in schools, especially through the behavior modification therapy and violence prevention programme, financed by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), has helped a significant number of students in St. James, to rededicate themselves to learning and reduce violent behaviours.

The initiative is funded by the Japan Social Development Fund (JSDF), and seeks to modify disruptive behavior of young people in inner-city communities, while also helping parents to develop skills that can help the growth of children, and strengthening the capacity of guidance counsellors and deans of discipline.

“I used to be angry with myself all the time; at school if students say anything to me I was ready to fight. My guidance counsellor told me about this camp, I never wanted to come…when I came I never socialized, I sat in a corner by myself, after I started to grow and talking with the others, and socializing,” St. James High School, Sade McIntosh revealed, while speaking at a recent closing out ceremony held at the Family and Parenting Centre, in the parish where the programme is administered.    

“When I went back to school, I was not angry anymore. I was not ready to fight anybody anymore. I was just calm and gentle,” she added. The programme ran for some 12 months and catered for 360 students. It saw 216 youth from the cohort partially taken from the formal school system for five hours per week and given behavior modification therapy for two weeks.

The participants were those who may have been suspended from schools, and those who were exhibiting behaviors indicating that suspension from school would be the next course of disciplinary action. The sessions included life skills development and pro-social behavior development.

The project also incorporated training of 300 parents and caregivers in non-violent alternative disciplinary skills, and provided them with handbooks for future and long-term use.

Mother of four, Miss Trivonnie Ajoe, said the programme taught her how to talk with her children, and “how to share and keep a relationship with them-we are encouraging people to come to this meeting (the Centre), don’t feel that life is done as you see it; there is much more ahead of you,” she said.

Head of the Centre, Dr. Beverley Scott, reported that most of the participants had displayed variant normal behaviors, but after the modification intervention, screening revealed that most of them could return to the regular school system on a permanent basis, while three students were referred to other agencies for further intervention.

“St. James High School was plagued by fights and violence. A number of my students that were giving problems I referred them there (the Centre), some of them I deliberately took them out of school for up to two weeks, had them attend the Centre before they came back to school. The Centre worked wonders for them,” stated Guidance Counsellor at St. James High, Radcliffe Virgo.

For his part, Dean of Discipline at the Green Pond High School Donald Webley, said the intervention initiative allowed him to send students to the Centre, and also to have Dr. Scott conduct parent conferences and workshops at the school.

Project Manager at JSIF for the JSDF, Ayanna Demetrius, said the programme administered for parents who are challenged and their offspring, was timely and “very much in line with the Ministry of Education’s thrust to incorporate parents with students and teachers as a means to promote good parenting and force parents to take equal responsibility  for their children’s education.

“The pull-out component was the other element which was specially designed for youth in crisis, who had been temporally removed from formal school system. These students, some had been expelled from the formal school system, some were at home…had been suspended for an extended period and required the completion of therapy before being admitted back into the school system,” Mrs. Demetrius explained.

The projected cost some $ 25million, and had participation of 24 guidance counsellors from the 12 participating primary and high schools in the parish. Mrs. Demetrius said after the successful “meeting of the programme goals,” every effort was made to reintegrate participants into the formal school system. “For some students who had been expelled, after the completion of the therapy, they are returned to school, referred to other schools, the Family Court, or in some cases, the hospital for mental health problems,” she said.

Parents and guardians were trained to use non-violent discipline, and guidance counselors and deans of discipline were trained to detect and refer children for therapy in a timely manner. The project also included the provision of handbooks to both students and parents.