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December 5, 2019
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December 5, 2019

Responding to children under stress

By Lara Pickford-Gordon
Twitter: @gordon_lp

Too many people know someone who has been touched by crime in its many forms. They themselves may have been as well.

For children who have seen death and violence, compounded by instability as a result of socio-economic issues within the home, how can Catholic schools teach them to be instruments of peace, love, forgiveness, faith, light and joy? The following is a snapshot of the experience of a Catholic school in east Port of Spain. The educator spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We listen to the stresses that our boys go through at home …up to yesterday a boy did a naughty thing and after I gave him a disciplinary letter to carry for his mom he said ‘Miss, don’t tell my mother …because she will real beat meh’, and he started to cry and he told me his story and what he is going through and my heart just…I didn’t know what to do….I am positive he is not the only boy who is going through turmoil in his home…I know many others are…”

This case was referred to the social worker.

Most recently, choir singing was introduced and a couple years ago drumming, as a way for pupils to channel their emotions. The educator said, “We have them singing. In that way, they can relieve some of their stresses and anger.” The drumming initially only took place on afternoons, but lunchtime sessions were added.

“So many of them go to drumming and to beat away their frustrations. I must say many of these boys because of where they live, their experiences… it is a lot to deal with. A lot have shared that they hear gunfire regularly, and maybe the quarrelling and cursing and the arguing…” she said.

Parents keep them indoors to protect them from “outside elements”. At school, they can socialise, break free “and they let out all their frustrations”. They run around wildly in the courtyard and rough play during recess.

Affirmative action

The educator smiled with pride when the training in steelpan, and Parang was mentioned, saying “Our boys are very talented”. The school will begin chess tuition to boost critical thinking. Another benefit envisioned is that the learnings in chess can carry over into daily life.

“… they might think ‘Before I fight, what will happen? I might end up in the office, parents will have to come down’. That is our idea behind the chess, and they love it. They love it…” she said.

There is daily rosary and meditation. Since the introduction of meditation two years ago, teachers can instruct “major subjects” like reading and comprehension in the afternoons instead of trying to push a lot of work in the mornings.

The educator said, “Activities based is what we are using to keep our children focused and to stay away from that life of crime and to recognise there is another way.”

The children recite affirmation statements daily.  “We tell them things like ‘I am good’, ‘I am kind’, ‘I am a child of God’, ‘I am talented’, ‘I am handsome’…” The aim is to create a mindset so they begin to demonstrate “the kind of qualities that would help [them] to become the kind of citizen we want.”   Although there is Religious Instruction every morning, many of the children are not Catholic. “Sometimes we do values education. Yes, the teaching of the Church but each class teacher tries to bring it to a personal level.”

The educator explained the children are instructed that though they may live in communities where “things are happening that aren’t right” this does not determine their future. “There are a lot of opportunities out there and ‘I can. I just need to tap into those opportunities because the sky is the limit’.”

Seeking solutions through SIP

Education Minister Anthony Garcia said about one per cent of the nation’s schools are affected by crime. There are interventions by guidance officers from the ministry’s Student Support Services Division and social workers assist children and visit parents.

Three years ago, the School Improvement Project (SIP) was launched targeting 25 primary and secondary schools in the Morvant/Laventille area. The focus of the programme was on improving infrastructure and aesthetics, literacy and teacher training and development, student violence, indiscipline and parenting in education. It brought together the Ministry of Education, principals, teachers, parents, students and the community.

He said students were an example of how communities can work together to promote discipline. “We recognise no border issues as far as students were concerned,” Garcia said of the children’s interaction in both academic and extra-curricular activities. While at school, they “join heads and work together”. He said it was a “prime initiative” and worked well. SIP ended November 30 and is being evaluated to build on strengths and address areas of weakness.

The ministry also works with the TT Police Service Inter-Agency Task Force Hearts and Minds programme “in an effort to put a halt to the scourge of crime”.