Sat | Jul 22, 2017

Violence spilling into schools - Principals say conflicts escalate to dangerous levels outside institutions' walls

Published:Thursday | January 12, 2017 | 1:00 AMCecelia Campbell-Livingston
Girls from the Bustamante High Schoo in Clarendon, as they left the institution yesterday.
This youngster was seen making his way to the Watsonton Primary School yesterday.
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Principals say conflicts escalate to dangerous levels outside institutions' walls

The bloodletting taking place in Clarendon is starting to spill into many of the schools, with some students getting caught in the orgy of violence affecting the parish.

From children who boast about the communities in which they live as part of efforts to scare their classmates, to others who make calls to adults to intervene in minor disputes, or those who just avoid morning devotions, school communities are now finding themselves affected.

"At school, we have mostly minor conflicts, but they escalate when they leave here because we don't have a tight rein out there. We see persons interfering in student conflicts and escalating them," said Wayne Evans, principal of the Bustamante High School.

"Family members, and the groups that they are involved in, will sometimes get involved. We had one sometime in October, where the student had a conflict on the road and other persons got involved. It didn't end violently, but it was really a situation of concern," added Evans.

According to Evans, while students and staff at the school are generally safe, external clashes make members of the school community vulnerable.

"Sometimes we try to get the family members together - those who we know and can prove that they are involved - and we take actions as appropriate. Sometimes it is so bad that we can't keep the parties in the same school," said Evans.

At the May Pen Primary School, administrators are struggling to deal with the six to 12-year-olds who are resorting to violence to settle disagreements and conflicts.

"They settle those conflicts sometimes by fighting and also by name-calling," said principal Major Paul Scott.

"We are seeing that some persons, just by calling the names of their communities, drive fear into some of our students and some adults," added Scott.

He said that the higher-than-normal violent conflicts in schools in Clarendon is a by-product of the environment in which the children live.

"That's how it happens in and around them - in their communities, in their yards, in their backyards, their lanes and their streets - and they are going to take that attitude to school," declared Scott as he told our team on special assignment in Clarendon that the school's guidance department, along with other administrators, were working to address the problem.

"We are seeing more than the norm. It is not the norm for students to settle disagreements with a fight at the very first attempt," said Scott.

It is a similar story at the nearby Central High School, where principal Vinroy Harrison said that some students were using violence to solve basic problems.

"Students no longer talk through a problem. Many times, they seek to fight it out," said Harrison as he pointed to an incident at a plaza in the parish capital on Tuesday in which three female students from the school got into a fight with other female students from Denbigh High School.

At the Watsonton Primary and Bustamante High schools, the administrators are adamant that if greater importance was placed on school devotions, there would be fewer conflicts involving students.

Marchelle Williams, who heads Watsonton Primary, said that students were deliberately staying away from devotions and were adopting a negative attitude towards it.

She said that this could be traced to parents who were not sending their children to church.

"The value system in the children has fallen. Sometimes it is non-existent, which contributes to the increase in crime," said Williams.

"The Church has a role to play in guiding the students in being rounded citizens," added Williams.

Evans agrees that the failure of children to attend daily devotions is contributing to their inability to settle conflicts peacefully.

"Many decisions they make in terms of right or wrong is an absence of the proper values resulting from their lack of socialisation," said Evans.

He argues that outside of the school system, many of these children have no connection to positive social influences.

Corey Robinson and Livern Barrett also contributed to this story.