GREENVILLE — A child in danger, whether from a lurking predator or an abusive home, is a situation recognized by parents, teachers and adults as despicable and wrong, and when discovered, action should be taken.
But one perspective difficult to view is that of the child, who may not even realize that what is happening around them could be considered dangerous.
That is why the We Care For Kids Council of Montcalm County has stepped up and reinforced the “Protect Yourself” program in its third year throughout every public school district in Montcalm County.
Last school year, more than 1,700 students were educated in the program, which was taught to each first grade classroom through five half-hour sessions.
This school year, the program — designed to address sexual abuse, physical abuse and abductions — is including third-graders, who will be re-introduced to the program after having been through it in the first grade.
We Care For Kids Council Executive Director Nicole Long is currently visiting classrooms and will eventually visit every first and third grade classroom in the county to teach the course. She teaches each class five separate lessons with a goal that each student is educated on and retains information related to the dangers of abductors and predators.
“My goal is not to make them fearful, but make them aware,” Long said. “I constantly tell them that we practice these rules so we can be safe and then we tell a grownup these rules so we can all be safe.”
Long says she introduces the serious and dangerous topics in a way that young students can comprehend, with stories, pictures, examples and student participation playing key roles.
With her first lesson, she introduces discussion about what it means for something to be dangerous and about what could hurt a person’s body or feelings.
Her second lesson focuses in on personal instinct and feelings and how to determine if a situation is scary or dangerous.
By the third lesson, Long explains how some strangers may try to trick students into being friendly, such as by playing a game.
In her fourth lesson, the very serious topic of sexual abuse is discussed through a story that children can understand on a basic level.
And in her concluding lesson, Long wraps up her teachings and makes sure each student knows to tell a trusted adult if something is wrong.
“The true test will be with the third-graders this year and to see what they have retained,” she said. “It will help me see whether I have to make adjustments or expand on some issues.”
According to Long, the Protect Yourself program was created using the Michigan Model for Comprehensive School Health Education curriculum and the Child Lures program.
“We Care For Kids Council decided to begin teaching this program in 2011 after much research into various programs,” she said. “Currently it is taught in all of the public schools and one private school (St. Charles in Greenville), though we hope to see it taught to all first and third grade students in all schools.”
Baldwin Heights Elementary School Principal Michael Walsh has been supportive of the program and said he believes the inclusion of the third-graders at his school will be a major benefit to the students.
“This program gives kids a chance to implement things and practice as well,” Walsh said. “Our teachers have raved about it. By first grade, the students can cognitively begin to understand. Expanding it to two grade levels will hopefully help reenforce the lessons being taught in the first year.”
Walsh said he believes adding third grade students into the mix will eventually affect the entire atmosphere of the school.
“I’m very excited to see how that will impact the culture of the building,” he said. “You set the foundation while they are younger and it allows them to apply it to a newer situation as their body changes and the world changes around them. They are much more likely to retain this information.”
According to Long, the budget for the Protect Yourself program is approximately $10,000 and is fully funded by We Care For Kids Council. The collected funds are from United Way grants, individual donors, fundraising efforts and Children’s Trust Fund grants.
“If anyone would like to donate to this program, a gift of $5 provides the entire program to one student,” Long said. “A gift of $100 provides the program to an entire class. All personal donations are greatly appreciated.”
For more information about the Protect Yourself program or We Care For Kids Council, visit www.wecare4kids.com, email Long at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Long at (989) 289-0910.