Jane (not her real name) was boiling over with rage. The teen had been insulted - for the umpteenth time that week - and she wasn't going to take it lying down. She pointed a knife at her schoolmate menacingly and dared him to repeat his words. He backed down.
That incident occurred in 2006 when the then-15-year-old Normal (Academic) student was at an emotional all-time low. She was being bullied in school and her father had walked out on the family, which left her mother struggling to make ends meet on her own.
"That wasn't the only incident. I would also chase and throw things at other students, but this was probably the most serious offence," Jane, now a cheerful and outgoing first-year undergraduate, recalls candidly.
"My mother had to work to raise my sister and me by herself after my father disappeared, but it meant that I saw very little of her. I felt distant from her, and we argued a lot. When I told her that I was being bullied, she just told me to 'deal with it'," says Jane. That made her feel even more aggravated and helpless. "I felt so frustrated with everything, and matters just came to a head".
However, Jane found a lifeline of sorts, in the form of a drop-in programme set up by Students Care Service (SCS) in her school.
"SCS gave me a place to vent my frustrations. It was a place where I felt I could speak up without fearing that I would be judged, as all students were treated equally, regardless of their academic performance," she explains.
SCS is a registered charity established in 1975. In 2013, it conducted services and programmes for over 5,000 students. These programmes and services include casework and counselling, guidance programmes to help rehabilitate juvenile offenders, specialised interventions for children with learning difficulties and others.
A platform to improve her confidence
In Jane's school, SCS operated a 'drop-in centre' where students could interact with SCS staff and volunteers, as well as each other, in an informal environment. Students were also given the freedom to operate and decorate the drop-in centre by themselves, which helped them to develop a strong sense of ownership and belonging. It became a sanctuary of sorts within the school for students who were troubled, or who simply needed a place to chill out.
Thanks to the informal setting, Jane never felt as if she was a 'client' or a 'problem kid' who needed help. "I always felt that I was simply part of the team as I was given the responsibility of being in charge of the drop-in centre very early on," she says, adding that she would probably have been annoyed or resentful if she had been sent for formal counselling sessions instead.
Jane was further helped by the free tuition she received through SCS. She had always felt that she was an academic loser, having been unable to qualify for the Express stream after PSLE.
However, the tuition she received from volunteers at the SCS centre helped her to realise her academic potential. "I would not be where I am today, pursuing a degree in university, without the academic help I received," she says.
Being a part of the SCS drop-in centre also gave Jane the opportunity for greater personal development. "We were given more responsibilities to learn and be independent through SCS, through opportunities which most students would not have," she says.
She discovered that she had planning and leadership skills through activities such as running a weekly guitar club and planning camping trips. "This really helped improve my self-esteem and confidence," she says. "I never would have thought I was capable of doing these things."