A meeting was held at the Abaco Central High School on November 14 to announce the launch of the RENEW Programme which is scheduled to begin within the next two or three weeks. Coordinator of the program, W/Sgt. 2483 Jocelyn Smith, is very excited about the inauguration of this program which she has been working on organizing for the past year. Officer Smith explained that the program has been designed to address the problems of at risk students and to provide counseling, community work and rehabilitation for those students on suspension from the school.
Previously, students on suspension just spent from three to five days out of school with no guidance or help and time on their hands that just gave them the opportunity to get into more trouble. Officer Smith stated that, “In future, the time students spend on probation will be used to help them learn and build character so that they will not return to bad ways and also to take them out of problem situations at home and at school.”
Officer Smith explained how RENEW, in which both government and private agencies are involved, will work. “Once a student is put on probation they will be referred to the RENEW programme. They will be assessed and counseled by councilors Margaret Smith from the Christian Counseling Centre and Vernelle Swain from the Wellspring Leadership and Development Centre. They will then engage in community service at an establishment such as the home for the elderly and will be checked on by police officers. At the end of the suspension they will attend a leadership session with Whitney Bain, Director of Whitsun Leadership Group and the police at which time they will have to state what they have learnt. They must also write an apology to the school principal showing remorse for what they did.”
The RENEW program will address three types of offenders: students who commit an offence on property and who will be charged by the police; students in need of preventative counseling and someone to talk to due to problems at home and those students exhibiting bad behavior and who could be a problem in the future.
Enrolment in a drill corps for six months, which will be run by the police department, will provide additional follow up help for students after they have finished probation.
Follow up after suspension will also include an after-care phase when someone will check on the child weekly and conduct an assessment to see if further intervention is needed. Officer Smith stressed that the RENEW programme will include not only the students but also parents and teachers and that parents will play a vital role. It will be mandatorily for a parent to attend one counseling session with the child.
Principle of the Abaco Central High School, Ricardo Ferguson, made the startling statement that, on average, the number of suspensions can be anywhere from 50 to 100 students per year. “Abaco Central High School gets a bad rap from the community and people look upon it as a bad school. However, it is no different from schools throughout New Providence,” stated Mr. Ferguson who has recently taken up the post of Principal having served many years in senior schools throughout the Bahamas. “I want the public to be aware of Mr. Ferguson’s willingness for this program to take place in his school,” stated Officer Smith.
Incorporating this initiative is one of many steps Mr. Ferguson has undertaken to change perceptions about Abaco Central High School and bring about a positive change in the student body.
Officer Smith is requesting for anybody in the community who feels that they have the time and skills for mentoring to please come forward and give a hand to this program. People may have a degree in psychology or just possess an innate counseling gift. For those unable to offer their services during the day follow-up counseling in the community in the evening would be an opportunity for them to assist.
Persons volunteering would not have to head any counseling sessions as there are four councilors who are fully trained but they need someone to assist. There are three ways in which people can help.
- By being a Big Brother.
- Assisting with the RENEW counseling program at the school.
- Business owners to offer to take students for community service in their establishments.
Anybody feeling that they can help should call W/Sgt. Smith at 367 5623 or Vernelle Swain at 551 4631.
“I hope the RENEW programme will make a big difference in children’s lives,” stated Officer Smith. “We are currently in the process of setting up a room in the high school which will be comfortable and attractive and offer a therapeutic and uplifting environment for the students we will be helping.”
The Parent Teachers Association is also assisting in the setting up of the room.
In addition to those already mentioned in the above article, members of the RENEW programme attending the meeting were: Sgt. 686 Jonathan Dorsett, school-based police officer; Basil Longley, school counselor; Kimberley Rahming, school counselor and Earlin Baillou, Pastor of New Rehoboth Ministries International.