Wed | Dec 2, 2020

At-risk teens rise with STEPS - Programme manager pleased with behavioural improvement among boys

Published:Monday | June 3, 2019 | 12:00 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
Janilee Abrikian (right), general manager of Peace and Love in Society (PALS) Jamaica, chats with graduates of the STEPS programme during the closing ceremony at the Breezy Castle Sports Centre in downtown Kingston on Wednesday, May 22. Abrikian was the project manager of the Supporting, Training, Empowerment, Parenting for Success (STEPS) programme.

Setting at-risk high-school students with serious behavioural issues on the correct path is what Janilee Abrikian, project manager of the Supporting, Training, Empowerment, Parenting for Success programme (STEPS), has been busy doing over a six-month period, starting in October 2018.

A closing ceremony for the first phase of STEPS was held late last month, during which 14 boys received certificates of participation and gifts for completing the programme.

But no gift was as important as the behaviour modification that took place in the teenage participants from Denham High School and St Andrew Technical High School.

“I now notice gentler behaviours,” Abrikian told The Gleaner of the boys, who she said were referred to the programme by police officers, guidance counsellors and teachers.

“When we first started, there were high levels of verbal aggression as a response to a perceived slight, which could be that someone was giving them a look. They then would want to box or thump you. They have very low impulse control. I remember probing during a session and asked, ‘Who has been suspended more than three times?’. A lot of hands went up.

“[A programme like this is important] because maladaptive behaviour is a formula for an unstable future. Just imagine them leaving school and can’t get a job. What do they do then down in the inner city?”

Abrikian was proud of the boys who completed the programme, which was funded under the European Union-Government of Jamaica Poverty Reduction Programme IV, in partnership with the Jamaica Social Investment Fund and other stakeholders, pointing out that a number of students – boys and girls – fell out for various reasons.

unresolved grief

She also revealed that very few of the participants lived with their fathers and she could not think of any who lived with both parents under one roof.

“We have boys in there who have lost their fathers violently. One boy’s father was a gang member. Another [boy’s father] was involved in gunrunning, served time in prison and the year he came out, he was killed.

“They also have relatives who have been killed, relatives who lived in the same yard in which they live. With that kind of background, one of the issues for some of the boys is unresolved grief. There is also complicated grief when relatives experience death by violence, and it can be really complicated,” she added.

Rochelle Clarke, a parent of one of the boys, sang the praises of the programme, crediting it for a noticeable change in her son’s behaviour.

“He has an anger problem and he is in the process of working on it. I see where he is getting better. He had issues with his peers and I used to get calls because of him disrespecting teachers and being disruptive. He was referred [to the programme] by the guidance counsellor,” Clarke said.

“The programme is important because of the extra mile it went with these boys. It eliminates them being in conflicts and showed them that the world has a lot to offer. They were also taught that there are people out there who love them. My vision is for them to accomplish anything they want,” she added. “It has set them on a path of transformation.”

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com