How school 'foster families' have helped curb students unrest

Itierio Boys High School Principal Isaac Ogol engages his foster family of five boys in the school. (Stanley Ongwae, Standard).
A school in Kisii County has come up with a new approach to guide students’ behaviour.

Itierio Boys High School, which has horrifying memories of one of the worst arson fires in recent history, is implementing what it calls foster families to strengthen ties between students, teachers and the administration.

In the programme, every teacher has a foster family of between five and 10 students whom he closely interacts with on a regular basis.

At least twice or thrice a week, the smaller family units must meet to discuss various issues arising from each of the members with regard to personal development in class work and other social concerns, including challenges and breakthroughs in personal endeavours.

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Family meetings

Every day, there is time for family meetings. And at least once every week, there is a family day.

Every member of the foster family is always free to pour their hearts out to their foster guardians, who are teachers.

The idea comes in the wake of rampant cases of unrest by students across Nyanza region over the last two weeks. Already, more than 10 schools in the region have been closed after students destroyed properties worth millions of shillings.

While stakeholders blame the government, indiscipline among students, drug abuse, examination pressure and the on-going world cup for the unrest, Itierio Boys’ is not taking any chances, especially after a fierce fire gutted 10 dormitories in the school two years ago.

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School Principal Isaac Ogol says the close link between teachers and students helped them avert a planned strike mid last year.

About 10 boys who were involved in the plans destroyed some school property.

But it was fellow learners who rounded them up, arrested them and handed them to police, after which disciplinary measures were instituted against them.

“If we didn’t have such a thing as school families, then I think the school would have sunk to its knees again,” Mr Ogol says.

According to Eucabeth Kengere, the teacher in charge of guidance and counseling, the concept of school families has helped curb students’ unrests as well as effectively managing the way they behave.

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“We receive different children who are being brought up in divergent ways which we must moderate to make their behaviour better as well as prepare them to become dependable adults in future,” says Ms Kengere.

The students’ president, Caleb Mokua, says since the family model was introduced in the school three years ago, some “funny” behaviours among learners have naturally died out.

“Initially, some naughty students would sneak out at any time to smoke and abuse drugs or steal from other students. But with our smaller families here, everything is under close check, either by us the students or by teachers,” Mokua says.

The school is now on a path towards reclaiming its lost glory.

Form One enrollment has since doubled from 150 last year to 300 this year.

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Bigger responsibility

Dominic Obadiah, a peer counsellor and life skills trainer based in Kisii, recommends the foster families approach in dealing with students.

“Such approach is effective and there is need for school administrators to institute such active groups in order to foster values in young people,” says Mr Obadiah.

He says teachers have a bigger responsibility to shape the conduct of teenagers in schools because they spend more time with them than do the guardians.

With rapid news of unrest in schools, Nyanza region’s Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association Chairman Andrew Gesora says school heads should strive to be close to learners as much as possible.

He says it is through interaction that the teachers would know the students’ concerns and respond appropriately.

“Such approach minimises cases of unrest in schools because every concern by the students is well addressed,” Gesora says.

Mr Obadiah says the foster parenting in school involves motivation, teaching, guiding and counseling, creating a link between the parent at home and the child’s psycho-social and educational needs for their smooth learning.

Kisii Countystudents unreststrikesFoster families