SENDING SOME of the most anti-social Year 11s at a Welsh school to a Kenyan slum for a week has led to a remarkable turnaround in their behaviour, according to deputy head Andy Williams.
Seven out of the eight pupils who were selected for a life-changing trip to Nairobi from Monmouth comprehensive had severe behavioural problems, ranging from absenteeism to drug misuse.
But Mr Williams claimed helping to rebuild a crumbling school in the poverty-stricken region had given them a wake-up call - including a teenage boy who was subject to an acceptable behaviour contract, a voluntary contract often seen as the final step before an ASBO (anti-social behaviour order).
"Apart from one girl, this group of students had all been identified as having particular challenges," said Mr Williams. "They were all in danger of becoming disaffected and leaving without qualifications, and several could have been permanently excluded.
"But there was an immediate improvement in the pupils' behaviour. Their attendance was better initially, and their behaviour is definitely better."
The school encouraged the selected pupils to self-finance the trip by holding fundraising events as part of the Prince's Trust award programme, 18 months before flying out on "Operation make a Difference" at the end of March.
The group stayed on a campsite in Nairobi and worked in Kibera slum, repairing two classrooms at Muthurwa primary school.
"It was a bombshell of a place," said Mr Williams. "The windows were hanging off and it was filthy. We had to empty all the furniture out, sand the walls and start painting, all in 30-degree heat."
Kiralee Marsh, 16, from Wyesham in Monmouth, was shocked by the conditions she saw in the slum around the school.
"The people there had no shoes and their roads were full of stones. We went to our guide's house and it was about the size of my bed. It makes you appreciate what you've got," she said.
"I admit I used to be naughty in school and I've been suspended. But I started to change when I got interested in the project. I started to think, I've only got a few years left in school and I want to get something out of it."
Mr Williams says she's not alone in her change of attitude. "A sense of maturity has been seen in most of them. They've done something which others in the school haven't.
"Lots of them want to go back and do more fundraising now," he said.
"Underneath their brash behaviour they share the same core values as we all do. It takes something like this to bring it out."
Leader, page 26