CCS elementary program focuses on prevention

Published 1:59 pm Tuesday, May 2, 2017

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

Keeping students safe is the focus of the “Think First and Stay Safe” program in Chilton County elementary schools.

The program meets the state requirements outlined in Erin’s Law, focused on increasing awareness and prevention of child sexual abuse.

“Erin’s Law mandates that children must have at least four to five consecutive lessons within the year on sexual abuse prevention,” teacher Angie Barnett, who is in her 11th year teaching the program at Thorsby, said.

Starting this month, the program will be used in kindergarten to fifth grade classes countywide.

“This is not a sexual education program. This is a sexual abuse prevention program,” Barnett said. “It is to make your child aware of stranger safety and to let them know it is not OK for someone to be touching you or to ask you to touch them in your bathing suit zone.”

Exceptions, such as medical reasons, are also outlined.

“In the kindergarten level, we have seven cornerstone lessons. It doesn’t teach at this level any of the lures that sexual offenders use to groom, or to pull children in,” Barnett said.

Instead, it focuses on being healthy, kind and respectful of others as well as being able to identify inappropriate behaviors.

The program includes lessons on being kind, respectful at school, stranger safety, bullying and online safety as well as identifying adults they can trust.

The details included increase as the child is older, but never includes “anatomically correct terms for body parts, we refer to it as the bathing suit zone as our private parts that we have to keep healthy and safe,” Barnett said.

Parent orientation meetings were held prior to the county wide launch of the program and forms sent home giving parents the option to opt their students out of the program.

Barnett said she would have liked for more parents to have attended the meetings to know how important the program is.

Common lures someone may use to get a child to come with them include asking them to help look for a lost pet, asking a child to do a job for them without asking parents or threats.

One of the first years that the program was taught at Thorsby, a class on a trip to a local park identified “bad weather person” as outlined in the program. When their teacher called the police, “He was a sexual predator with a statewide pickup,” Barnett said.

The program can also be helpful for a student who has experienced sexual abuse.

“We have children that have been sexually abused [attending Thorsby] that when they go to Butterfly Bridge [Children’s Advocacy Center], they knew what to say. They knew that you do tell a trusted adult when that is happening … They know that it is against the law for someone to touch you in your bathing suit zone,” Barnett said.

Barnett said many times a child knows their abuser, and are “groomed to think that’s normal and that happens in everybody’s family.”

Barnett said the program gives students who are in an abusive situation the tools to “rewrite their story and change the path of their life … that’s where your power comes from is to tell.”

“The children are more confident and less afraid,” Barnett said.

The program emphasizes parents as a trusted adult. However, if a parent is the abuser, then students are encouraged to talk to their teacher, school counselor or the school resource officer.