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 You are in: Analysis
The Kwesi Project
Keeping the kids on the right route

By Katherine Sellgren
BBC News Online education

Guy Woolery of the Kwesi Project

For former graphic designer Guy Woolery, the ancient African proverb "It takes a village to raise a child" is the key to reaching out to disaffected black youngsters.

The proverb is the motto of the Kwesi project in Birmingham, set up in 1994 to tackle the high rate of exclusions among African-Caribbean boys through mentoring and a special support unit.

"If black children perceive that Jane and John are at the top of the tree, then they must be at the bottom," says Mr Woolery, himself a father of three.

"So they think there is no point in learning, because they're not going to get anywhere and society will never value them as much.

"Now, if the safety net of school and home has fallen down, how does the community come in and play a role?"

Sunday's child

Guy Woolery, together with black primary head teacher Gilroy Brown, founded Kwesi, a word which means "born on a Sunday" to the Akan people in Ghana.

I want to give something back to the community. These children need positive male role models, especially if they just live with their mother.

Kwesi mentor Andre Jones
"There are positive connotations when you talk about Sunday's child - good, gay and bonnie," he says.

"So the name 'Kwesi' was about changing perceptions because sometimes black children are viewed in a very negative way."

The scheme began by recruiting black men from the community to mentor black children who had begun to show signs of losing interest and motivation in class.

"They are there to add what I call a positive male presence to their experience and show them what their potential is.

"Where the community intervenes with children at a fundamental age, when they become racially aware, we can work out difficulties and make a difference."

Mentors come from all walks of life. All that matters is the quality they bring to motivating children.

Their brief is to show an interest in the boys, build up their self-esteem by praising their achievements and give practical guidance.

The aim is to nip disaffection in the bud before a child begins to disregard academic achievement, play truant or generally misbehave - factors which can lead to exclusion from school.

Giving something back

"I want to give something back to the community," says 31-year-old Kwesi mentor Andre Jones.

Joshua Williams: Expelled, but now learning from the project
"These children need positive male role models, especially if they just live with their mother.

"I'm another outlet if they want to use it - I'm not the establishment, nor their school or family."

Kewsi mentors have helped as many as 500 pupils over the past seven years. But there are many children who are still excluded from school.

Figures from Birmingham City Council show 18% of pupils permanently excluded from school in 2000/01 were from African-Caribbean backgrounds.

And so the Kwesi project has branched out to address the needs of African-Caribbean children who have been expelled - girls as well as boys.

The project won lottery funding and bought the old Angel pub in Birmingham's Lozells district, which has become home to the "Diamond Academy".

Here, children who are not in school but have not sent to special pupil referral units are taken on for up to 12 weeks of lessons and special sessions to deal with behaviour.

Exclusion by ethnicity in the UK
Chinese: 1 in 10,000
White: 12 in 10,000
Black: 46 in 10,000

Click here for the full analysis
The morning is spent on study including coaching pupils to sit their national curriculum tests. The afternoon is dedicated to creative activities such as cooking, needlecraft and music.

The aim is to prepare the pupils to rejoin institutions, be that school, college or the world of work, once they leave.

"So many young people are drifting and becoming lost in the system," says Guy Woolery. "They are sometimes aimlessly wandering around, staying at home or doing odd jobs."

"It's often the children at the top of the triangle who are thought of as ringleaders and trouble-makers and they tend to be excluded.

"But we often find they're the brightest. The ones who lead and clash with authority are often the brightest [with] a lot of potential."

Emotional baggage

Guy says the children who come to the academy often have a lot of "baggage" that needs working out.

"None of the children here at the moment have fathers and they tend to be from low-income homes.

Delphine Harris: Out of school for a year
"They've grown up seeing that they're not as valued as Jane and John. They hear their parents talking about discrimination. That creates anger and frustration.

"So they're angry children, but not bad children.

"I expect the anger. I expect the volcano to erupt. But I see that as an opportunity to explore a way forward."

The Diamond Academy is at an early stage and currently educates just six pupils, but hopes to expand.

"I deal with things better now than before," says Delphine Harris, 14, who had been out of school for a year before joining the scheme.

"We talk about what's on our mind - at school it was just like they never listen to you."

Joshua Williams, 15, was expelled from school nine months ago.

His mother was not happy about him attending a referral unit. The Diamond Academy seemed a suitable alternative.

"There's more of a family environment than at school," says Joshua.

"We learn about the consequences instead of the rules and regulations of school.

"This is a step to moving on in life rather than going onto the track of doing nothing."

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