Review of a Pilot Project in Marchand
Our teachers in St Lucia can tell you that dealing with all the issues kids bring to school can be challenging. The good thing is that the majority of our teachers are well poised to make a big impact on students’ lives. The students can be helped to develop positive relationships with caring adults in an ideal environment, and that is what the Catholic Youth Synergies Empowerment Pilot project (CYSEPP) was designed to do.
The Curriculum goals of that project were: To display a sense of personal identity and self-worth guided by a selected set of activities; create and develop a supportive environment for social interaction; develop good interpersonal relationships; practice healthy habits; make adjustments in behaviours and practise behaviours which would improve the spiritual, emotional and intellectual well-being of students; and improve overall attendance as well as academic performance of participating students.
In my previous articles, I have repeatedly made reference to Life Skills. Today, the question is, were students actively engaged in these skills through the programme? Indeed they were. Some of the areas of focus in the Life Skills component included Friendship, Caring, Responsibility, Organization, Perseverance, Patience, Cooperation, Organization, Perseverance, and others.
Where ‘Friendship’ was concerned, students were engaged in activities to help them keep a friend through mutual trust and caring. To be more apt in the skill of ‘Cooperation’, students were actually involved in activities to help them work towards a common goal. ‘Caring’: students were encouraged to show and feel concern; ‘Responsibility’: they were helped to do what is right; ‘Patience’: to wait calmly; ‘Organization’: to work in an orderly way; ‘Perseverance’: to keep at it and not give up; ‘Effort’: to do their very best; ‘Sense of humour’: to laugh and be playful without hurting others; ‘Common Sense’: to think everything through and become creative; ‘Curiosity’: to investigate and seek understanding; ‘Initiative’: to do something because it needs to be done, and without asking them to do it; ‘Integrity’: to act according to what is right and wrong; and ‘Empathy’: the activities in which they were involved, gave them ability to listen and understand another person’s needs.
The CYSEPP curriculum also consisted of Interpersonal Communication Skills which included verbal and nonverbal communication, active listening, expressing themselves, giving feedback and receiving feedback. Students were also involved in activities which focused on Negotiation and Refusal Skills, where they were required to negotiate and manage conflict. They were also involved in activities in which they had to assert themselves; and also activities in which they were required to say no, as a form of refusal.
Other concepts included Time Management, Managing Feelings, and Positive Thinking (including relaxation techniques). Students were also engaged in activities to build self -esteem and confidence in which they learned how to recognise strengths and weaknesses, and how to develop sense of value.
As it related to ‘Friendship’ as mentioned earlier in this article, mentors were able to connect perfectly with the students. They reported to the centre long before the students arrived, greeted the students and gave them a big hug. From the following day onwards students didn’t wait for a hug. They hugged the mentors themselves. They seemed to have been developing mutual trust.
The mentor’s first lesson on friendship began with a scriptural reading, The last Supper, in which Jesus broke bread with his friends, the apostles. Jesus broke Bread and said: “Take this and eat. This is my body.” He gave them to drink from the cup and said, “This is my Blood.” This act is laden with symbolism of friendship: He brought his friends together around a table; shared His bread and drink with them. They trusted in Him and ate. And Jesus gave them some words of advice: “Do this in memory of me.”
These lessons spanned about 30 minutes, which was the allotted time. Other friendship activities included birthday celebrations, cooperative activities and other related activities.
Every lesson was evaluated. Mentors were required to provide feedback on the lessons or activities undertaken, which were positive.
In terms of attendance of students, attendance registers were kept by the mentors and a discussion ensued among the mentors and coordinator at the end of each day. Positive feedback was also provided to the principal, teachers and the parents themselves. There were very meaningful relationships which developed among the teachers, students and parents, which were beneficial especially to the students.
At the end of each term there was a CYSEPP party for the students at the centre, which they thoroughly enjoyed. The mentors themselves had their separate end of term party. Parents were served refreshments after every contact session at the centre and the attendance was always excellent.
At the end of the school year a special assembly was convened at the school at which the students received certificates, commendations and tokens of appreciation in the presence of the entire school. At the end of the Awards and Recognition Ceremony, teachers of the school, mentors of the CYSEPP programme and parents met for refreshments.
The CYSEPP programme lasted for three years, and at the end of each year the project had to provide the sponsors with a general report on the project.
Indeed, I take great pleasure in telling you that the programme was an overwhelming success. The students had made a complete turn- a- around in their behaviour, attendance and performance, which made the school, parents and mentors very happy. In fact, a couple of the students went on a tour of the United Kingdom as guests of the Rugby Team of the Hamstead College.
All the students proceeded to Secondary School and had been performing very well.
The idea was to replicate the project in all major communities in St Lucia, but, unfortunately, the sponsorship funds dried up and the programme was discontinued.