Grant helps Alexander kids SNAP

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$1.2 million program to help troubled youth

The Alexander school is set to test-drive a world-famous program meant to help troubled boys stay out of jail.

Alberta Education officials announced last week that it had awarded the Society for Safe and Caring Schools and Communities $1.2 million to pilot a program known as SNAP at Alexander’s Kipohtakaw Education Centre and Stony Plain’s Forest Green School. The cash comes from the recently announced Safe Communities Innovation Fund, and will be doled out over three years.

SNAP, or Stop Now and Plan, is an internationally recognized program developed in Toronto that helps kids under 12 and their parents deal with impulsive or violent behaviour. This is the first time it has been tried out in Alberta schools. There are separate versions of the program for boys and girls.

The project will help at-risk youth avoid crime and violence, said Aboriginal Relations Minister Gene Zwozdesky in a press release. “By providing these boys and young men with the skills they need, we hope to help them become contributing members of their communities.”

The money will help Alexander hire child and family workers to work with at-risk boys under 12, said Donna Blundell, executive director for the Safe and Caring Schools society. If the three-year trial succeeds, the program could be rolled out across the province.

Alexander education officials were unable to comment officially on the grant, but said privately that they were very excited by it.

SNAP into good behaviour

Toronto’s Child Development Institute created SNAP in 1985 after the passage of the Young Offenders Act, said Leena Augimeri, director of the institute’s children committing offences division. The act raised the age of criminal responsibility to 12 from seven, leaving provinces to deal with criminals younger than 12.

These are impulsive, sometimes violent kids who may be failing in school and falling in with gangs, Augimeri said. Police can send them to child services, but those departments are usually too busy with more serious cases to help these children.

Nor do many schools have the staff to deal with the students, Blundell said. “Some don’t even have counsellors anymore.” Without help, these students can become repeat criminals and end up in jail. “Who wants to see their youth, our future, go to jail?”

SNAP is a 12-week course that uses role-play and therapy to help these kids stay in school and out of trouble. “A lot of these kids who get into trouble are impulsive and reactive,” Augimeri said. “They don’t stop and think.” The course has children pick apart the reasons behind their impulsive behaviours so they can learn to control them.

Significantly, Blundell added, the course also teaches parents how to work with their kids. “There’s no sense in just doing it in the schools. You have to get important role models in their lives involved … somebody has to believe in them.”

Hull Child and Family Services in Calgary has run a successful SNAP program since 2002, as have several other countries around the world. The Canadian National Crime Prevention Centre has praised the program as a model for reducing antisocial behaviour.

Research has shown a statistically significant drop in delinquency in students who complete SNAP, Augimeri said, as well as changes in their brain patterns that can be picked up by MRI scans.

Staff at the Alexander school will spend the summer learning the SNAP system, say school officials, and plan to enrol their first students this fall.

Any questions on the program should be directed to Blundell at 780-447-9449.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.