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The City Journals

How Granite School District is teaching students to prevent abuse

Apr 22, 2019 02:30PM ● By Heather Lawrence

Woodstock Elementary students and every student in Granite School District will learn how to prevent child abuse. (Heather Lawrence/City Journals)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

Granite School District held a press conference on April 1 at Woodstock Elementary in Murray and talked about the program they’re using to educate elementary students about child abuse. The conference included time with Principal Brenda Byrnes, Gwen Knight of Prevent Child Abuse Utah (PCAU) and older elementary students. 

Ben Horsley, director of communications, called the press conference. “Since November of 2016, PCAU has been in many of our elementary schools to provide training on preventing child abuse. Over the next school year, the training will continue until it has been provided to every elementary school in GSD,” Horsley said. 

Horsley also acknowledged Discover Card for a generous donation toward the training. Steve Peck of Discover Card said, “I grew up in the Granite District. We value volunteerism and doing the right thing. We’re providing this donation to make sure that the entire district can receive this information and training.”   

The curriculum for the training, which runs for two 45-minute sessions and is geared toward specific ages, was developed over the past 30 years. It focuses on helping smaller children recognize the “uh-oh” feeling which might be an indication that something wrong is happening. For all students, the strategies recognize, resist and report are taught.  

“In the report piece, we teach each child to have three trusted adults that they can talk to. Our curriculum is evidence and best practice based and was approved by a panel of the State Board of Education, DCFS and parents,” Knight said of the curriculum used by the PCAU.  

Knight said that a bill passed in Utah in 2014 requires every student, parent and school personnel be given access to abuse training. “We are invited into the school to do this training. Parents are notified, and they can opt out. They can also come to the classroom and sit in on the presentations. We send handouts home,” said Knight. 

The donation from Discover Card is important because though the education is required, it comes at a cost. “Our instructors all have at least a bachelor’s degree. We are funded by grants and fundraisers. Discover specified that we come to Granite District because it is special to them,” Knight said. 

Media were allowed to speak with selected fifth and sixth graders who’d been through the training. Students Ava Kunz, Abigail Van Orman and Carter Oliphant said they had heard some of the information before, but they also learned new things. 

“We talked about the different kinds of abuse: physical, emotional, sexual and neglect. One thing that was new to me was the amount of kids who are abused. It surprised me quite a bit, and it makes me feel absolutely horrible,” Carter said. 

The other students said they’d learned about finding a person to talk to at school if you can’t talk with your parents. And they learned about the SafeUT app. “I told my parents about it and they told me they want me to download it.” 

Byrnes is the principal at Woodstock Elementary, and has taught or been an administrator all over the Granite District. “As educators in general we’re trained to look for things, for signs. We have a student support process if there are any concerns. We have a team of professionals like a social worker and school psychologist that can look at what’s going on,” Byrnes said. 

“I definitely have seen some sad situations with kids. The thing I want to focus on is that when we became aware, we used that student support process to get the best help for that student. I think GSD has a really good system in place,” Byrnes said. 

Byrnes said she’s confident students can get help if they need it. “We want students to know we’ve got people to help them. The district has supports. Absolutely, definitely we have helped students through that process.”

Knight said parents are encouraged to have age-appropriate conversations with their kids about abuse. “Last year there were over 10,000 victims of abuse in our state. It happens in every demographic, every culture,” said Knight. 

Knight added they started a billboard campaign that gives parents two good website resources: www.pcautah.org and www.howtopreventabuse.org.

For Knight and Byrnes, the goal of prevention is the same. “Children who experience adverse experiences such as abuse and neglect are at increased risk for suicide, mental health issues, substance abuse and even crime and other health issues. Our mission is to prevent that by empowering children to recognize, resist and report abuse,” Knight said. 

Byrnes said, “As a principal, I truly feel like I’m a protector of students. Anything we can do to empower them to know what is safe is something that I support.”