At John Gray High School, a small group of students gathers every Monday to talk about life.
Most have multiple suspensions, some have convictions in Youth Court, all of them face an uncertain future.
“There is a tunnel leading right from high school to prison, and right now we don’t have the urgency to stop it,” warns Michael Myles, government’s officer for at-risk youth.
The Monday group, known as Boyz2Men, attempts to change that and help reverse the trajectory of a small number of so-called problem students.
Led by the school counselor, Pastor Christopher Murray, the group aims to equip young men with life skills and provide them with community role models.
It seems to be making an impression.
Christian Merren, 16, from West Bay, joined after racking up more than 30 days of suspension from school.
He says, “I used to get into fights a lot. My friends invited me to join the group and it has really changed me.”
Brandon Baker, 17, from Windsor Park, said many in the group had suspensions for bad behavior. But they attend the Monday sessions voluntarily.
“We have got guys in our group that have been arrested for all sorts of things. This is teaching us the right way to go. We just want peace at John Gray.”
The boys came together last weekend to organize a DJ Slam to help raise money for the program, which Mr. Myles warns is underfunded.
“We wanted to raise funds for the group, we are there because we want to be there,” said Brandon.
Pastor Murray said the hope is to expand the services that Boyz2Men could offer.
The group, which also takes the boys on fishing trips and helps find them work, as well as offering them life lessons, would like to be able to do more.
He said community mentors like Simon Miller, of the National Drug Council, and Lincoln Robinson have had a huge impact on the boys.
Mr. Robinson found summer jobs for all the boys in the program.
“That meant a lot to us,” said Brandon.
“We got up to work on time every day. I enjoyed it. It was hard work but it was nice to have some money.”
Mr. Myles, who assists with the group, said society likes to paint the boys as troublemakers, but many of them are also victims.
“Most of them don’t have an easy home life. It is hard to come to school every day having fought with your dad, not knowing where your next meal is coming from.”
He said the cycle would continue, unless more options were created to provide support and options to young men, including those who struggle academically.
“We are not doing enough, the country is not doing enough. 90 percent of our funding is invested at the end point – the police, the court, the prison system.
“Programs like this are what holds these youngsters together. More investment has to go into helping kids like this solve their problems.”