Lack of support leaves Bermuda's young men on the scrap heap - report
These comments are from wall-sitters and high school students in Monique Keyser's report, ‘Out of School and On the Wall':
A 20-year-old man, kicked out of school after his first year for fighting, and currently at the higher levels of one of Bermuda's gangs: “I know they were trying to kick me out. So when they pulled me in, they gave me a paper to sign to like say I was finished. And that's when I was just 16 so, it's like, it was all right for them to kick me out then, so they kicked me out.
“Why did I get kicked out? I, we, started a little riot in school. It was like a neighbourhood riot — different neighbourhoods. There was a lot of us. It was a big fight. That's why I got kicked out. That was like my last straw. I got kicked out of school. I never really wanted to talk about it because there really ain't nothing to talk about. I just got suspended and stuff like that.”
An 18-year-old man who aimed to enter the military but has been jailed for drug possession and is now unemployed: “They're biased out there, man. They don't like guys from around here. [What was school really like for you?] Work, work, work, and then work, work, work, you p**s somebody off, they exaggerate and hit you with five-day suspension for something like you're wearing sneakers to school instead of shoes, you know, school shoes — a five-day suspension. I don't like that school.”
A schoolboy explains how he came to be suspended: “[The teacher] started screaming at me about my grades and she blacked out my grade in front of everybody and since I'm not, I'm not the smartest child, and I have a low grade, that caused everybody to look at me different, like a dumb child.
“And, she just, she just sent me to the office because I end up getting mad, cause when teachers say the wrong things I just, I get mad and say the wrongest stuff. I don't like in front of the whole class, because then this crazy student goes, ‘that's dumb, everybody knows, blank, blank, blank is the answer.'”
Teenaged boys end up being kicked out of school because of insufficient classroom support to deal with issues from their home lives, according to a new report.
Many young black males are exposed to violence and drugs or alcohol abuse in their lives, leading to behavioural problems in school, researchers found in a series of interviews with wall-sitters.
And experts believe because they aren't getting enough emotional help either at school or home, many are forced out of education and end up on the scrap heap, with no hope of starting a career.
They recommend putting more counsellors in schools so males can talk about their traumatic experiences, while encouraging businesses and Bermuda College to help create more job opportunities.
Monique Keyser, a Columbia University scientist, compiled ‘Out of School and On the Wall' as a follow-up to the Mincy Report she co-authored two years ago, which found more than half of young black males drop out of school early.
Her team carried out lengthy interviews with 22 young wall-sitters, as well as 35 high school students, to assess why so many young people leave the school system without any qualifications.
“On-the-wall samples shared similar characteristics,” Dr Keyser told The Royal Gazette.
“The majority had left high school but perceived it as being kicked out of high school for disciplinary reasons: fighting, involvement with drugs.
“They really recalled school as a place where they didn't feel cared for.
“One common characteristic was that they were heavily exposed to community violence or other aspects of street culture such as drugs and alcohol abuse.
“We found in the high school sample that at 14 there was high exposure to those things.
“Men on the wall had a history of family discord and limited family support, instability, domestic violence and absent fathers.
“This experience, coupled with a lack of support both in and out of school, contributed to the problem.
“Their memories of school were all about indiscipline. Nobody even asked them why they were acting out and that was the main problem.
“Behavioural problems are usually a manifestation of those problems, and the school community was unaware of what was going on. They didn't feel cared for and didn't feel that anyone would care if they continued.”
She recommends Brooklyn's Safe Harbor programme, which sets up rooms in high schools with comfortable couches where disruptive students are sent to talk to counsellors before any disciplinary action is taken.
Dr Keyser said wall-sitters were generally unable to find work and were disappointed in their educational attainment.
“They've internalised this and it's something keeping them back from going forward. It's a fear of repeated failure,” she said.
“Some are able to say, ‘I need to go back to school', but something is keeping them from going there. They say things like, ‘I will never pass the essay writing.'
“All these things cumulatively work to alter a person's life course, and put them in a place now where they certainly are at a standstill. They can't find work.
“So when they don't find a community connection at home, school or work, they turn to what they see and know in the streets and their peer culture, which has proved to be disastrous for many of these young men. So many of them have been incarcerated.
“They are not happy with their current situations. They want employment. They know they need to go back to school to find employment. They are fearful about the escalation of gang violence.”
Dr Keyser's report recommends reconnecting the wall-sitters through GED programmes, career training and teaching them employment skills.
But she added: “To provide a connection it needs to start earlier in the school system. We have been focusing on high school, age 14. All of our studies have identified that as a critical period. Boys need a lot of extra support to keep them motivated towards schools.
“Boys are more likely to get in trouble; girls are more educationally-focused. To help boys keep that education focus, they need that extra guidance and support.
“All children need an opportunity to process their emotions and concerns. We offer some suggestions about how the school can do that.
“Girls are more likely to seek out that kind of support. Schools need to create a climate where boys can access that kind of support. We recommended some more social emotional support in school.”
Regarding men on the wall today, she said: “They need someone that sits down with them and listens to their stories. Hook them up with the GED, tutoring, employment skills and then follow up with them.
“Offer that caring adult relationship they need to move forward. With this kind of case management, there are services out there. There needs to be a multi-sector collaboration: schools, businesses, government, Bermuda College and non-profit community.”
Some have argued the onus should be on parents to be more proactive instead of relying on schools, but Dr Keyser said: “Kids spend more time in school than any other context by the time they reach assessment, so a lot can be done.
“When boys feel that sense of connection to someone in the community it does serve to keep them happy.
“From a policy perspective, you can make the changes in schools.”
Community Development Minister Michael Weeks has said he's implementing Jobs Corps, a programme recommended in the Mincy Report to find work for those aged 16 to 24.
The report, sponsored by Atlantic Philanthropies, is not yet finalised but will be published in the coming weeks.
Dr Keyser is presenting a public lecture, ‘On the Wall or On the Margins?' at the City Hall Theatre tonight. The event was originally scheduled to take place at XL House. Members of the general public who are interested in attending should RSVP by telephone, 236-7706, or e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Useful website: www.crfcfw.columbia.edu.
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