What of the transportation centre?
Esther Tyson, Contributor
It seems sometimes that for every step we take forward, we take two backwards. I remember the problems being experienced with students hanging out at the bus stops in Half-Way Tree, some at the Mother's bus stop on Hagley Park Road, others at Molynes Road, and still others on Eastwood Park Road.
The behaviour displayed by many of the students was unacceptable, and there were complaints that something needed to be done to better supervise them at these locations after school. The Government constructed an impressive structure in the middle of Half-Way Tree to house the transportation centre. The buses were now better supervised in terms of scheduling, etc. Students and other commuters had a covered area within which to wait for the buses. There were bathroom facilities provided, and even a shopping area. This situation seems ideal. It is what is done in many developed nations.
One problem solved, new one arises
The Gleaner of January 15, 2008, gave this report: "It is the city's newest landmark and can be seen from several miles away. The new Half-Way Tree Transport Centre was officially opened on the weekend and the sense of pride of those in attendance was as thick as the massive columns supporting the building. The comments they made demonstrated that, for the most part, people believed that the development of the transport centre was a step in the right direction. 'It pretty, yuh nuh. A long time this should a deh ya,' and 'a first-class building dem ya' were just a couple comments overheard."
Alas, this solution has resulted in a problem which signifies the spiritual and social condition of our youth.
Students are using the transportation centre as a hang-out spot. Students from various schools congregate not just to get the buses, but to meet friends and foe, to settle disputes, often violently, to 'make out' with each other, and even to terrorise the adults.
There seems to be a culture of antisocial behaviour which is now characterising many of the students who are using the transportation centre. Civility and decency have declined to such an extent that a police officer who works at the centre has expressed disgust at the situation and conveys that he now hates going to work because of the behaviour of some of the students.
Increasingly, I hear stories, or read stories, about students stabbing each other, girls fighting each other over boys, students beating up security guards, parents coming in to aid children in taking revenge on other students, boys and girls openly fondling each other and engaging in sexual activity. And the list goes on.
Has the transportation centre provided a solution or facilitated the birth of a monster?
Now, this past week, a student from St Andrew College was stabbed to death by a number of other students in the vicinity of the tyransportation centre.
Last year, principals of schools whose students used the facility were called to a meeting by its management to discuss what then was a developing problem, and to find ways to stem the increasing antisocial behaviour. Present at this meeting were representatives from various sectors of the society, including the police. Principals were asked to get parents and teachers to come to the centre and assist in supervising the students at the rush periods in the mornings and afternoons.
This plan was not successful because many parents have their jobs to go to, and those who don't, are aware that this task would be a very difficult and dangerous one for which they were ill-equipped. Teachers are already challenged in dealing with these students in school and found it a problem to consistently be available to supervise students with whom they have no relationship. This arrangement met with little success. The police are at the transportation centre, but not in enough numbers. In addition, the officers change shifts at the very crucial time of 3 p.m., which is the peak period for many students to be at the centre.
What then is the solution?
There has to be proactive and reactive action. To be proactive, we must work to change the violent and sexually permissive mindset of our people. We need to begin to model to our youth positive lifestyles. I have been seeing some advertisements on the television promoting strong family structures, abstinence from loose sexual behaviour, and positive images of fathers. We need to have more of this.
In addition, we must encourage and promote healthy parenting and family patterns. In such structures, parents are responsible for their children and put their children's well-being first. The schools, churches, and other social organisations would then provide the support for the basic family structure. It cannot be that the schools are expected to turn around the maladaptive behaviours of our youth. That solution is ineffective and cannot work.
Strong societies are based on strong families. If we continue to accept that getting money and pleasure is the highest achievement, we will not be able to stem this slide into mayhem.
In addition, the police and the Ministry of National Security need to train and put in place enough officers to cover the transportation centre and its surrounding areas. It cannot be an excuse that because of the change of shifts the areas are not covered. It might mean a staggering of the shifts so that police personnel are always present.
If the present system is not working, there must be an alternative that meets the present challenges.
Esther Tyson is principal of Ardenne High School, St Andrew. Feedback may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org