Programme helps troubled pupils mend their ways and rebuild ties with parents, teachers, classmates

School representatives browsing booths about the Builders Project at a sharing session on Nov 22, 2021. PHOTO: LUTHERAN COMMUNITY CARE SERVICES

SINGAPORE - When he was in Primary 5, Manfred (not his real name) was caught stealing three watches after he had previously gotten away with shoplifting on multiple occasions. But instead of reporting him to the police, the shopkeeper contacted Manfred's school.

During a session facilitated by staff from Lutheran Community Care Services (LCCS), Manfred, his mother and teachers talked about the difficult family circumstances that had led to the boy's behaviour and how his actions had hurt the people who cared for him.

Said Manfred, now 16: "When I spoke up about my thoughts, they got to know me better... (Without that conversation) I might not have told anyone about how I felt and just continued the way I was."

To demonstrate his remorse, Manfred committed to the shopkeeper's suggestion to grow a plant, and while watering it daily, to reflect on his past actions.

He is among the 1,227 pupils, 157 teachers and 60 parents across six primary schools to benefit from the Builders Project, a collaboration between the National Council of Social Service and LCCS that started in 2015.

The programme, conducted in the schools, tackles children's wrongdoing by helping them build, strengthen and restore relationships with their teachers, parents and classmates.

On Monday (Nov 22), at Builders Connect 2021 held at the LCCS office in Jalan Bukit Merah, representatives of two primary schools shared how those in the programme have reaped benefits and the challenges they face due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

At Zhangde Primary School, the number of serious offences such as theft and damage to property fell to seven this year, from 27 last year.

The staff noted that getting pupils to discuss their behaviour and develop positive coping strategies has helped the pupils think beyond themselves and engage in more pro-social behaviour.

Lakeside Primary School, meanwhile, has received positive feedback from parents about having opportunities to bond and communicate with their children through the workshops.

But Zoom fatigue has hampered efforts, said the school representatives. Poor attendance at parents' workshops is also affecting the programme's continuity at home, they said.

In a pre-recorded speech for attendees on Monday, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing emphasised the need for schools to work with community partners to adopt a whole-school approach in tackling pupils' needs holistically and promoting mental well-being in pupils.

Said Mr Chan: "Emphasis is placed on building a safe space among the class community for all students to voice out how they are coping. This allows students to empathise with those who are facing difficulties, and take steps to support them."

Next year, LCCS hopes to include more primary schools in the Builders Project, with greater emphasis on reintegrating pupils into the classroom and conversations with family members on how to support the pupils.

Acknowledging that teachers' workloads have doubled because of the pandemic, the social service agency also plans to roll out a mental wellness initiative to create safe spaces that allow teachers to share their burdens with peers.

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