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More students smoking ganja

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SEVERAL SCHOOLS across the island have had to call on outside professional
counsellors to deal with ganja-smoking and rum-drinking by children and
those whose behaviour have been aggressive and disruptive.

The Mico Care Centre in Kingston receives the bulk of the referrals, about
40 cases each week. However, while not willing to name the schools or areas
these students are from, counsellors there say that they see routinely at
least one case of a student abusing ganja.

The referrals, they say, come from across the Corporate Area, St. Thomas
and St. Catherine, from teachers, parents and guardians.

"One of the problems we face is that ganja is readily available, and most
children will use it once it is in the home. The ones (students) the school
catch up with may be those who take it in for a kind of 'show and tell'
where they try to share it with their friends," senior counsellor Yvonne
Davidson said.

The centre, an outreach project of the Mico Teachers College, offers a
non-residential counselling programme for children under 18 years old.

The children are usually referred to the centre from across the island not
just for behavioural problems but for other issues like trauma, and grief
counselling as well.

But the counsellor said while many of the children are sent for behavioural
problems, tell-tale signs of drug use are usually uncovered through the
routine screening process.

She said, however, that unless the children admit to a drug problem they
cannot be labelled or even treated as users.

"We have seen children on drugs between 13-16 years old, but they may well
have started at an earlier age, and may well have been using it for quite a
while before the parents pick up," Ms. Davidson said. "There are others
(student drug users) though, who we refer straight to drug treatment
centres, this is why we don't have a steady figure. One of the things that
we now see with the students is that they are (increasingly) aggressive,
and their grades, as well as their relationship with peers and siblings

Guidance counsellor at the St. Andrew Technical High School in Kingston,
Michelle Boxhill-Dunkley, said the school regularly sent students to the
Centre for counselling for a variety of problems.

She said behavioural issues were the main reason with violence, change in
behaviour, attitude and academics as main indicators.In other cases she
said children were identified for care because of difficult or stressful
home situations which most often showed up as indiscipline in the students.

One principal of a high school in St. Catherine said the situation of ganja
use among students was so rampant in her school that outside help was now

"You can't pinpoint particular students because they will not admit to it
and unless you catch them then you cannot say they are using, but you know
it," the principal said. "From Grade 7 straight to Grade 11 they are using
it. There are times when say, after a break, the children come back and
they are just edgy. They are not the same. On one occasion recently I found
a group of students under a tree and when we called out to them they all
ran but two little boys were so out of it they could not move, they were so
'cramped' they couldn't run with the others. When I held onto their little
hands they were limp, they were just staggering. Apparently they had been
drinking, you could smell it on their breaths, but it seemed as if
something had been placed in the drink."


She said that at times when the drug use on the compound became even more
obvious, then they have to call in the police.

"The vendors themselves sell the children the alcohol and Rizla (cigarette
paper) so you know it's something the children are using."

She said that several schools including hers had to be relying heavily on
collaborative agencies for help.

"We have the police working with us. They come in and talk with the
students, we've invited motivational speakers, persons from the public
health department and agencies like these." The counsellors say while the
figure is not significant, it speaks to a greater problem of drugs being
more accessible to students, as well as increased awareness of the problem.

President of the Guidance Counselling Association of Jamaica, the Rev.
Oliver Edwards confirmed a growing concern among the group's over 300
members of rising rates of indiscipline and aggression among students.

He pointed to the problem of migration which had forced some students to be
fending for themselves. Others had been passed off to extended family members.

"The children internalise this and are then seen as unruly," The Rev. Mr.
Edwards said. "There are other situations too where some persons are
exposed to drugs and early sex."


"Parents lack proper coping and parenting skills and that is really the
main reason. It is a very serious situation now," Sergeant Jackie Brown of
the St. Catherine South Police said. The division monitors schools in
Portmore, Old Harbour and Central Village.

She confirmed that the police had been called in regularly in several
schools and now counsel an average of 30 students each day.

"We see them as young as six years up to 18 years old. They come in with
behavioural problems, promiscuity and drug use, but behavioural problems
especially are very high. In fact most of our day is spent counselling,"
she said.


GANJA: Tax Regulate Control Educate

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St. Ann, Jamaica

tel (876) 972-0817
(876) 794-8086
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email paul_chang@cwjamaica.com

Jamaica Sunday Gleaner


Glenda Anderson, Staff Reporter