JIS News

Students Expressing Truth (SET), a pilot programme aimed at bringing balance to schools affected by violence, and to boost the quality of interschool relationship, was launched at the Ascot High school in St Catherine, yesterday (Feb. 23).
It is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID’s) Community Empowerment and Transformation Project (COMET) and will target behaviour modification at Ascot High.
Founder of SET, Kevin Wallen, told JIS News that the programme, now in its tenth year, was introduced in the prisons to assist in behaviour modification. It was in operation for some nine years at the South Camp Rehabilitation Centre, Fort Augusta Women’s Prison and Tower Street Rehabilitation Centre, where it involved a computer laboratory, a recording studio and a radio station.
“What we aim to achieve is balance. We realise that in Jamaica a lot of people are going through a lot of things. It doesn’t mean that they are bad people, just that there is an imbalance; whether it’s the way their parents brought them up, or the environment in which they were brought up in,” he said.
Ascot High was chosen as the pilot for the schools, as a result of a teacher at the school knowing about the work of SET in the prisons, recognised that the school needed that kind of help and made the approach.
“When we came here and they told us what the situation and the issues were, we wanted to do something,” he said.
The programme works by isolating students, most of whom are fingered as troublemakers, into a group of their own and engaging them in a management structure that gives and teaches them responsibility.
“We want to bring about a holistic approach, so not only are we teaching them things about themselves, but we’re giving them a marketable skill, the kind of skill that they can use to make a difference in their lives, even at this tender age,” he said.
Mr Wallen said that the SET programme was not a student/school based programme, but a general programme that was now being introduced into schools where there is violence so as to bring about a turnaround in behaviour.
Principal of Ascot High, Cedric Murray, said he was willing to work with whatever incremental changes that comes about as a result of the introduction of the programme.
“I am not expecting any miracles, but I’m expecting there will be some change [and] no matter how incremental it is, it is a change and we can work with it. Once it starts at a point, we can take it to another level,” he said.
He stated that the programme would not put any undue pressure on teachers, but would help them to understand their role in this new dispensation.
“Once they begin to recognise the need for them to change, then the problem will become easier because, we need to take a new methodology to the whole question of discipline similar to the way we brought a new methodology to teaching,” he said.
One of the many visiting principals and school administrators, Cecile Bernard, Principal of Waterford High School, said she was impressed with what the programme proposed.
“It has given our students another opportunity to find themselves. The young people of today seem to be lost and have no sense of direction, and a programme of this nature is really going to bring them back to focus, as young individuals with possibilities and potentials and to realise their truest dreams,” she said.
The SET programme receives some funding from USAID, but is staffed primarily by volunteers.

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