Dealing with "stranger danger" and finding ways to keep children safe in potentially unsafe situations are the goals behind a program taught in all Upper Arlington elementary schools.
The district created the YES program in response to a tragedy in 1980, when a third-grader was abducted and murdered, said Lauren vanDoorn, school counselor at Greensview Elementary.
"The district partnered with Women Against Rape to create a program that taught students how to stay safe, strong and free," vanDoorn said. "The YES program has been running districtwide in all elementary schools since 1981."
YES stands for "Youth Education for Safety."
Elementary counselors train parents in strategies to help keep students safe. They also present a one-hour workshop for new students and for all students in grades one through four.
"The workshop uses role-plays to teach students how to stay safe, strong and free in situations of bullying, strangers and inappropriate touching," vanDoorn said.
She said all students are sent home with a handout that explains what they learned through the program.
"We partner with parents through encouraging them to review the YES handout so they can discuss the safety strategies with their children," she said.
Information on the handout encourages parents to teach children to "yell and tell" if they find themselves in a dangerous situation.
Parents are also asked to role-play possible lures a stranger might use to get a child to go with them and to evaluate their child's walking routines to note spots of potential danger.
The handout information warns parents that many child molestations are committed by a person known to the child or family.
"It may be necessary to question the motives of adults or teens who seem highly interested in your child or want to spend time alone with your child," counselors wrote in the handout. "Be aware of your child's concerns, comments and questions about nightmares, television programs, movies, real-life situations and 'what if' situations. Listen and talk positively with your child without ridiculing your child's feelings or denying reality.
"Believe your child, even if you have difficulty with what he or she tells you," counselors urge parents in the handout.
The district surveys fifth-grade students about what they remember about the YES program, vanDoorn said.
"They really remember the YES strategies and apply them in necessary situations," she said. "When I read some of the recent news articles, I am also reminded of how empowered our children are. Many stories have ended positively, with children alerting safe adults and keeping their distance from unsafe situations. This is what the YES program is all about.
"It is also always rewarding to hear stories from parents and students who recall what they learned in the YES program," vanDoorn said.
She said the most important things for parents to remember in teaching safety to their children are to create a plan and stay open to all communication from each child.
"I would encourage parents to have open dialogues with their children, creating a plan to ensure safety, whether it be online or in their neighborhoods," she said.