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Where the boys are: Social bonding critical

Published:Sunday | May 2, 2010 | 12:00 AM
These Calabar students shout their approval during one of the performances at the Gleaner Champs 100 School Tour on February 12. - Ian Allen/Photographer

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

DAVE SOARES has been a lower-school vice-principal at St George's College, Kingston, for almost two years, after ending his 23-year stint at Cornwall College, Montego Bay, as vice-principal. Michael Francs has been at Wolmer's Boys for 20 years, his coaching duties concentrated on the under-19 and under-16 football teams.

Both educators have seen boys evolve into men and been part of efforts, formal or informal, to shape them.

Soares says: "I think we have to try and look at the boys in terms of the society - it is falling apart at the seams. Part of the unravelling fabric is the boys." He added that much of the glue holding the society together is the females.

St George's currently has 1,450 students, with 728 in the first to third forms of which Soares is vice-principal. He points out that the school population is 99.9 per cent urban and the mores and norms of the urbanised setting are quite different from where there is a strong rural presence. "Where it is fully urban, the behaviour is more non-conformist," Soares said, noting that with the rural population "you still have some traditional, polite values".

Soares says: "we don't have as serious a problem as other people, and I think we work harder than most. We have all types of interventions from they come in." Included is a mentorship programme, in which influential old boys interact with the boys on an individual or group basis. There is the Sons of Virtue Retreat, at which boys considered at risk get counselling and engage in activities designed to engender and enhance social bonding and dispel anti-social thoughts.

Outreach programme

In addition, Soares says every student has to go to a charity, to be involved in an outreach programme, so by the end of fifth form, they would have done at least five visits.

Added to that are counselling camps. Participants are selected based on behaviour, or a combination of academic performance and behaviour. Soares pointed out that for the latter, there are students who are bright but have behavioural problems. The next one is slated for Hollywell in the Blue Mountains, where there will be a combination of counselling and environmental interaction.

Francis sees a pattern of protection, patronage and imitation in which the small cohort of boys from the lower class wields tremendous influence. He said Wolmer's Boys has a mix of middle class and, to a lesser extent, lower-class students. "What you find is that the youngsters in the middle class gravitate towards the boys in the lower class, to be macho, to be seen, to be seen that they can protect themselves," Francis said.

Then, he said, the upper-class boys look to the lower-class students for protection. Compounding this is that the lower-class students gravitate to the middle- and upper-class boys who they feel can help them financially. The assistance is given, with the expectation of an alliance in a crisis. "It's a sense of protection, basically, when you sum it up," Francis said.

Soares would recommend "social intervention from day one" to the Ministry of National Security. While the Safe Schools Programme is "the genesis of a good idea", Soares says in addition to having the police officers in the schools, they need to interact with the students "from the earliest stage". This includes clubs and mentorship.

"You need to get the young men in the pattern of seeing police around them not as antagonists but as allies they can interact with in a socially positive, not socially anta-gonistic, way," Soares said. He expects that "starting from that, you are going to have a lot of spin-offs and you can develop from that".