Parents send their children to school thinking that they will be safe and protected, but children experience violence there in different forms despite the efforts of administrators to discourage violent behaviours.
The impact of violence on children is negative and includes decreased motivation and a decline in grades; social withdrawal; severe emotional distress; and the possibility that they, too, will behave violently as violence becomes normalised.
Parents cannot afford to sit on the sidelines hoping that principals, teachers, guidance counsellors, and school resource officers can solve the problem. The task for some schools is an overwhelming one. Parents need to get involved.
We know that reducing violence begins at home. However, there are some simple things that parents can do to enhance the school's efforts. Parents should:
Get to know other parents and discuss safety issues.
Attend school meetings, which become even more important as children get older.
Work with the school to develop a parent-on-campus policy that makes it convenient and comfortable for parents to visit the school and to have confabs with other parents, e.g., in a parent club that meets at breakfast or at lunchtime.
Work with schools to promote school-safety programmes such as peer mediation, conflict resolution, and anger management.
Learn about the school's policies regarding discipline, violence, and bullying.
Discuss zero-tolerance policies with their children, letting them know that threats of violence are unacceptable.
Tell their children to report any incidents of bullying or violence.
Immediately report to the school's administration any threats of violence that they hear about.
While violence is part of the Jamaican reality, there are many things parents can do to help prevent violence in schools. Schools should be safe havens for our children.
WHAT STUDENTS CAN DO
Here are some things that students can do to enhance school-safety efforts.
Student Safety Council - The goal is to promote the awareness that students, too, have a responsibility for creating a safe school. Recruitment of students would include participation by all types of students.
Student court - This is a justice system using trained students to handle school-rule violations.
Peer mediation - Mediators model positive behaviours and are trained to facilitate problem-solving among disputants.
Buddy system - A current student is paired with a new student to help that student settle into the new environment and routines, and also makes that person feel welcome and comfortable.
Anonymous crime reporting - A facility that allows students to anonymously report school crime.
Community involvement - Do a project in the community, e.g., a clean-up project, planting trees, removing graffiti.
Students usually know more about violence at school than anyone else. They usually have excellent ideas about how to prevent violence. Their ideas should be solicited and implemented.
WHAT STAFF CAN DO
Here are some things principals and their staff can do:
Put violence-prevention and conflict-resolution sessions on the timetable.
Form a safety team, whose role is to develop a comprehensive multi-level violence prevention plan that addresses the physical plant, the classroom, and individual student levels.
Carry out a needs assessment that identifies the strengths and risks of the school.
Schedule violence-prevention workshops which will help staff understand student behaviours and teach them how to develop plans to help students learn appropriate skills.
Schedule conflict-resolution workshops for staff.
Ensure that the discipline code clearly states expectations for behaviour as well as the consequences for infractions.
Create a psychologically safe classroom and school-wide environment where students feel safe, respected, and significant.
Safe schools are developed through purposeful planning and organisation.
Janilee Abrikian is general manager of Peace and Love in Society (PALS). Email feedback to email@example.com.