AFTER a two-year break from the physical learning environment due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, numerous students of Haile Selassie High School in St Andrew have returned with behaviours that detract from teaching and learning.

Lorenzo Ellis, school principal for 13 years, told the Jamaica Observer on Monday that he and the teachers have been a bit distracted dealing with students who bleach their skin and wear inappropriate uniforms and unacceptable hairstyles, among other breaches.

“We have even had some students who wear dental braces that were not done by a dentist. We have isolated them and we gave them letters of breach and warning last week, and we have given them time to correct it. We have communicated with the parents and we have disseminated this information to our grade supervisors and form teachers. We are asking them to use this week to continue the conversation with them as to how they are going to correct the issues. We have sent home no one but we are trying to correct the breaches,” Ellis said.

Most of the students of Haile Selassie High School are mainly from violence-prone communities and lacked supervision throughout the pandemic, according to guidance counsellor Jacqueline Bryan who is also president of the Jamaica Association of Social Workers.

Bryan said during the height of the pandemic, when many students were to be doing online classes, they opted for jobs to provide food for themselves and families. She said that the teachers don’t have the undivided attention of all the students because they are distracted.

“The students are from Payne Avenue, Maxfield Park, Spanish Town Road, Majestic Gardens, Seaview, Duhaney Park, St Thomas and Red Hills. I had suggested that for the first month of school there should be no academics to allow us to have conversation with them to give them the opportunity to speak and talk about what they have experienced over the past two years. They will not confide in you until you build a relationship with them; once you have built that relationship, that is when we can get to addressing the behavioural issues.

“Having not had any boundaries, you have to speak to them three or four times before they respond. You have to develop listening ability, you have to get them to start comprehending that this is a school and that there are certain behaviours that are not appropriate in a school.”

On the matter of students from grades 10 to 13 taking on various means of earning, Bryan said she has received numerous reports of students cleaning windscreens at stoplights, vending inside the Coronation Market and on the streets.

“I even have some students who are still working. They work on weekends. They have not given up their positions and, because of their work ethic, the workplaces allow them to work on weekends. From grade ten to grade 13 are still working. Some of them leave immediately after school and can’t stay back for anything because they are going to work — and they don’t want to give that up because that is a way to earn income for them. Some of them are in financial situations where it a single-parent home and they feel that they have to go out there and earn in order to address financial needs. I have one young lady who proudly told me that she sells downtown and a she buy her uniform, books, bags and everything to come to school.”

In the meantime, the school principal said despite students taking long periods of time to get settled, there has been a vast reduction in certain offences like weapon possession.

“We have done significantly well in terms of transformation and readiness for learning. We still have some challenges with general conduct but essentially we are happy that we have conquered that monster of the possession and the use of weapons. We have [also] had a significant reduction in fights and critical incidents.

“However, as you can see, there are some other challenges we have in terms of general conduct and behaviour, which we are trying to work on. We recently did a study of the phenomena among our students and teachers and have just done what we call a recovery plan to see how we can get better responses from the students in terms of behaviour. We do accept that it is a major challenge, apart from the fact that there is a lack of resources.”

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