- The Safe Schools Programme has been reaping steady successes since its inception 10 years ago.
- The programme has been implemented in 174 schools islandwide to date, and has been having a positive impact on the lives of thousands of students.
- The initiative is helping to reduce violence in schools and foster positive behaviour in many students.
The Safe Schools Programme, geared towards tackling criminal and anti-social behaviour in schools, has been reaping steady successes since its inception 10 years ago.
A joint initiative of the ministries of National Security, Health, Education and Youth and several non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the programme has been implemented in 174 schools islandwide to date, and has been having a positive impact on the lives of thousands of students.
Under the programme, specially trained members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), called school resource officers (SROs), are deployed to targeted schools across the island, where they work with students deemed at risk.
The SROs also partner with Deans of Discipline and other school administrators to promote and maintain discipline as well as mediate in disputes.
National Safe Schools Coordinator at the Community Safety and Security Branch, Corporal Tanesia Johnson, tells JIS News that the initiative is helping to reduce violence in schools and foster positive behaviour in many students.
“I think we can boast about some of the positives that have been coming out of the safe schools programme,” she says.
“Within the last couple of years, especially last year, we have seen some actual growth, in terms of the behavioural patterns in students, and this can be attributed to the fact that we have our school resource officers in the schools, who have been pro-active,” adds Corporal Johnson.
She informs that this change in behaviour patterns has been achieved using several initiatives, with perhaps the most successful being the one-on-one mentorship sessions between students and SROs.
“We also have a programme known as the safe school mentorship programme, where police officers are mentors for some of the students who are identified as delinquents or displaying certain anti-social behaviour,” she adds..
Corporal Johnson notes that the mentorship programme goes much deeper than just the SROs, and involves key persons in the wider society.
“We go out and seek mentors for specific children. So, let’s say a youngster wants to become a soldier, a policeman or a teacher, the person who we would match them with would be of that profession,” she says.
She also advises that a new project under the programme for this year is the training of guidance counsellors, deans of discipline and members of the student council body to act as mentors. “If we have them on board our jobs will be much easier,” Corporal Johnson reasons.
According to the National Coordinator, sports has also played a major role in helping to transform the behaviour of at-risk students.
“We have a sports club within the Safe Schools Unit, where on a Friday we engage certain schools in the field activities, and so some of these students are able to let off some of that built up energy in a positive way,” she tells JIS News.
Another project which has garnered tremendous success for the safe schools programme, according to Corporal Johnson, is the safe schools tour, which was implemented in more than 20 schools last year.
“We toured over 22 schools, and that was a test run to see how best, as School Resource Officers, we could engage the youngsters,” she says.
“It took a different format from the usual talking to…and so we do our tour in terms of music and we allow them to engage each other, so it’s like a musical clash. They are able to do poems, and in turn we have our police officers perform for these students,” Corporal Johnson says.
She notes that this segment has been reaping significant rewards for the SROs, who have received numerous commendations from students, deans of discipline, principals and other education stakeholders.
“There are guys and girls who have come to us to say, ‘Miss, I am tired of being involved in all kinds of negative things, how can you help me to change?’ and we have actually assisted more than ten, and I’m talking about real tangible experience here,” she says.
As the programme moves into a new year, Corporal Johnson informs that the SROs will be playing a major role in the planned behaviour modification programme to be rolled out by the Ministry of Education in the coming months.
The programme will address the challenges of anti-social behaviour by students in targeted educational institutions, by seeking to promote discipline and positive values.
Furthermore, the Ministry has also announced that guidelines from the National Safe School Policy will be implemented in 595 primary schools, beginning September this year.
This move is also a clear testament of the success of the 10-year-old Safe Schools Programme, and further highlights the Government’s commitment to boosting safety and security in schools. This is all part of plans to make Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business, as outlined in the country’s long term national development plan – Vision 2030.