‘Protect Yourself’ teaches youth to recognize, respond to danger

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 11:25 am on Wednesday, January 16, 2013

STANTON — One classroom at a time, through creative and memorable methods, the effort to create awareness in children of the real life dangers of abductors and predators is growing throughout Montcalm County.

The “Protect Yourself” program, funded and organized by The We Care for Kids Council, has been implemented to teach children how to recognize and respond to various dangerous, disturbing, and destructive situations.

According to We Care for Kids Council Treasurer Penny Dora, those situations include and range from situations involving abductions, sexual and physical abuse and a child’s personal safety.

“The We Care for Kids Council is very proud of the Protect Yourself program and the opportunity it provides us to teach young children about personal protection,” Dora said. “We have an outstanding relationship with the elementary schools in Montcalm County and we are committed to working with elementary principals and school staff to assure this program is available for their young students.”

Dora said the goal of the program is to have children better equipped to face real-life situations that may come their way.

“Although we just recently brought the Protect Yourself program to Montcalm County, our council has provided a personal safety education component to elementary schools for more than 20 years,” she said. “It is, and will continue to be, our number one priority as the mission of our council.”

Dora said each of the five child safety lessons taught in the program to first and third grade students has an important and unique goal. Beginning with the first lesson, each lesson builds on the idea of personal safety, expanding on concepts and principles.

We Care For Kids Council Executive Director Nicole Long has been traveling to all elementary schools throughout Montcalm County to teach children directly about the dangerous situations.

“This is another outlet for someone to come in and offer a different perspective,” Long said. “Our goal is not to make the kids fearful of strangers, but be able to identify a problem if they are in a dangerous situation.”

Long said she has three rules she teaches every student to remember.

“Say no, get away, and tell someone,” she said. “I think kids today need to hear it more and more.”

Though the topics are serious, Long said she keeps her curriculum fun and engaging, with a goal that each child retains as much information from her lessons as possible.

“The kids seem to really enjoy the program and they give me great feedback,” she said. “We’ll find out next year when I see my original first graders as third graders, and see how much they remember after two years.”

Long, who is a certified teacher with a bachelor’s degree in education, spends five consecutive weeks traveling from school to school in Montcalm County teaching the curriculum.

“I absolutely love it,” she said. “Every day I go home and I love my job. If I can make a different in one student’s  life, I know that I have succeeded.

With the recent adoption of “Erin’s Law” in Michigan, which aims to help prevent the sexual abuse of children through education, Long said her curriculum and the council’s mission is as important as ever.

“Especially with Erin’s law just being passed, If we did not provide this program, the schools would be mandated to provide some sort of prevention program,” she said.

For more information on the Protect Yourself program, contact the We Care for Kids Council at (616) 225-6136.

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