‘Mi confidence get boost up!’

WHEN they weren’t being referred to the dean’s office for misconduct, issued suspensions, and engaging in fights, they would be exhibiting uncouth behaviours or performing poorly academically.

But that’s no longer the story of 30 grade 10 students at Charlie Smith High School in Kingston, who have been introduced to a behaviour modification initiative called The Youth with Goals, Resilience, Integrity, Tenacity (GRIT) programme developed by the Joy Town Community Development Foundation.

Instead, they are now being lauded as top performers who have copped numerous school awards and leadership roles and have even been promoted by their grade coordinator to sit Caribbean Examinations Council subjects.

Sixteen-year-old student Anthony Knight said he always struggled with being confident, but with the programme, he has realised much improvement.

“I wasn’t the guy who would stand out, I wasn’t the type to stand up for myself, and I wasn’t a leader. Mi confidence get boost up! As Teacher say something now, mi raise mi hand even when mi nuh know the answer. I was saying, ‘Wow, this wasn’t me’. That means mi really a change’,” Knight told the Jamaica Observer during a reading session with the Sagicor Foundation recently.

His peer, Julius Clarke, told the Observer that the programme has helped him to develop physically, mentally and academically and he wishes it would never end.

“Me love it. Now when conflict start up and mi feel fi prove a point me just report it.

“There is less fighting at school now. I wish other youth would keep calm and take in their education because all a we have dreams and we need fi accomplish dem,” he said.

Another student, 16-year-old Rehanna Clarke, said she also enjoys the programme.

“Mi used to give trouble a lot and all get suspension, but it helped me. The programme is great, it helps you a lot with your mathematics and English,” she said.

“The programme really helped me with my behaviour. I even received four awards and two medals for top performance in mathematics, top performance in English and behavioural improvement because of the programme,” added 16-year-old Axel McDonald.

Fifteen-year-old Oniella Vassell said she is now able to communicate more respectfully.

“It helps me not to be vulgar anymore. Now I show more respect to others, and learn how to talk to people better. I was usually very loud,” said Vassell.

Under the year-long initiative which started last summer, teens from the school living in Trench Town, Kingston, who exhibit violent behaviours, are at risk for gang involvement, have a tendency for truancy, and are performing one or two grade levels below their current grade levels, engage in after-school GRIT sessions where literacy, numeracy and conflict resolution skills are taught.

The Sagicor Foundation is supporting the project with $7 million, saying that it will be providing each student with a Star Savers Gift certificate valued at $3,000 which can be accessed through opening a Sagicor Bank account.

Social worker at Joy Town Community Development Foundation Shavelle Davis at said risk assessment through the Citizen Security and Justice Programme revealed that the students were in need of psychosocial intervention.

She pointed to a male and female student who are gradually improving.

“For Axel, behaviour-wise, it was really bad. There were fighting, skipping classes, leaving school before time, and even to just control his impulse was a problem. During the project, we have seen gradual improvement and he is now a student counsellor,” said Davis.

“While there was a female student who was very defiant, when you spoke to her she would show a lot of attitude but she has improved and is communicating better,” she added.

Additionally, programme manager at Joy Town Community Development Foundation Camille Johnson noted that the fourth-form students were targeted due to a dropout trend.

“The idea was that if you catch them, then we will have more students completing high school. We know that when you get to this age, you either want to go to work, hustle and make money to support your family, and so if you can understand the value of education then more will be able to complete high school,” said Johnson.

Mathematics teacher at Charlie Smith High School Clement Martin also admitted that there has been a positive behaviour change among students since the advent of the initiative.

“The programme has helped in a dramatic way as a means of reinforcing some of the things we try to get across to the students on a daily basis. We are also seeing improvement in their regular schoolwork,” he said.

“We had our prize-giving recently and a lot of the awardees for mathematics were from the GRIT programme. Additionally, when school ends, the students would usually rush home in the evening and now they don’t want to leave,” he said.

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