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JIS News

Linvern Wright, principal of the Alston High School in Clarendon is giving high marks to the Safe Schools Programme, noting that the joint government/private sector initiative has helped to reduce incidents of violence among students.
The school has been a part of the programme since 2004 and according to Mr. Wright, over the two-year period, “the frequency of the fights in the school has been reduced because of the intervention of the police. We used to have a fight every week,” he told JIS News.
He added that, “in January last year, we sometimes had four fights in one day and there has only been one minor incident since the start of the year”.
Mr. Wright credited the good results to the work of Constable Case, who is the School Resource Officer (SRO) assigned to his school. “Constable Case is interested in what he’s doing. He comes as often as he can. He seeks out students, who might be disruptive and spends time talking to them. If we have really chronic problems with them, he will visit their homes along with the guidance counsellor and myself. The cooperation between himself and the school is good,” he told JIS News.
The Safe Schools Programme is an initiative of the Ministries of National Security, Education, and Health in partnership with non-government organizations and was established in 2004 as an initial response to the escalating violence in schools. A police security survey done in the parishes of St. James, St. Ann, St. Elizabeth, Kingston and St. Andrew from October to December 2004 yielded 362 offensive weapons including three firearms; the confiscation of 22 packs of marijuana and 13 arrests being made. In addition, some 209 violent incidents were reported during the period.
The programme, which involves the appointment of police as SROs, has been implemented in some 114 primary and high schools across the island.
Monica Dystant, Safe Schools Coordinator in the Ministry of National Security, said the programme has as its main aim, a 40 per cent reduction in violence in core schools over a three-year period and a 70 per cent reduction over five years.
This goal, she said, would be achieved by increasing the capability of families, schools and communities to provide supportive environments for students; enhancing the capacity for integrated crises response and follow-up; developing and reinforcing positive values and attitudes; and facilitating the learning of safety concepts, among other things.
“The programme is holistic; it uses a multi-disciplinary approach to treat the problem of violence in schools. Yes, in the beginning the programme responded by putting police officers (SROs) in schools as a first step to stem the upsurge of violence, but that’s not the whole programme. We’ve short-listed psychologists and other experts for recruitment as well as other violence reduction initiatives which are managed by the Ministry,” she said.
She noted that under the training component, efforts were being made to develop the skills of peer leaders and parents in addition to upgrading the competencies of principals, guidance counsellors, and teachers in managing violence in schools. Training will continue in workshops throughout the six regions of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture.
A symposium to sensitize stakeholders has also taken place while analysis of data collected for a pilot study should be completed in March.
The communication strategies of the programme are being developed; a website has been established to gather and disseminate information with links to other principal partners; printed and electronic materials with the programme’s message has been distributed to schools and other stakeholders; and other promotional tools displaying the message will soon be available, Ms. Dystant informed.
This work, she added, was to continue through the use of radio and television programmes and other publicity activities and materials. The programme plans to extend its training component to juvenile correctional facilities, using best practices.
It will continue to improve relations with partners such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and to expand its networks to other local and international partners.