Comprehensive Schoolwide Training
“Even though we are a Christian school and environment, abuse happens.” This was a comment from one of the staff at Freeman Academy where Dove’s Nest speaker Brenda L. Yoder, LMHC, did a staff training on abuse, bullying, grooming, relationships, social media, and boundaries.
Dove’s Nest received a generous grant from the Schowalter Foundation that helped fund this in-person, schoolwide training. Freeman Academy in Freeman, South Dakota, has over eighty students in grades one through twelve, with a handful of international students who live on campus. Principal Nathan Epp contacted Dove’s Nest with several topics the staff at Freeman Academy saw as important issues to address for the upcoming school year. A comprehensive training was done on relevant topics relating to power and control behaviors: bullying, dating violence, grooming, and all types of child abuse. In addition, the training touched on types of relationships, differentiating between healthy and unhealthy friendships and teaching how to respond when friendships and relationships are toxic or unhealthy.
Speaker Brenda Yoder explained the various issues kids carry with them to school and how difficult it is to identify kids’ problems, stressors, and hidden pain. A former teacher, school counselor, and current licensed mental health counselor, Yoder explained the mental and emotional baggage kids bring with them from toxic or abusive environments. She explained the developmental and behavioral needs kids have and how children often aren’t equipped with appropriate words to share how they feel. “As a result of this training, I’ll be more sensitive to behavioral issues” one staff member responded. She highlighted several aspects of the Circle of Grace curriculum, which helps teachers model and teach appropriate ways to express feelings, deal with uncomfortable situations, and set boundaries with others.
Those taking part in the training weren’t just teachers—custodial staff, food service employees, and office staff were also included. “All of you impact the life of a child,” Yoder said. “Anyone who comes across the path of a child and interacts with them is important.” In talking about appropriate and inappropriate ways to interact with children, there were honest discussions about how words and physical interactions with a child can be misperceived, especially by children whose boundaries are violated by others in their lives.
“We should never assume we know what’s going on in the life of a child,” Yoder said. “Though something may be comfortable for us, it may not be comfortable for a child. When we set appropriate boundaries, we model something that may not be modeled for them in their sphere of influence.”
In addition to these topics, the staff received an introduction to the Circle of Grace curriculum, its activities, and how it teaches boundaries at various grade levels. “This was a lot of information in a short while, but it was good and necessary” one participant responded. A few particular areas of interest were social media, technology, and appropriate physical touch. After discussion and modeling of how an adults can teach children both physical and emotional boundaries, a staff member reported they hope to “be more intentional with my students about what is appropriate and inappropriate.” Another staff member was challenged to reevaluate how they hug students and communicate with students through technology.
While in Freeman, Yoder also did a Circle of Grace training and Moment in Mission at Salem-Zion Mennonite Church. Both Salem and Salem-Zion Mennonite Churches were represented in the training, and both churches use the Circle of Grace curriculum.
If you’d like training on similar topics or the Circle of Grace training for your church or school, contact Kathy Haake at Kathy [at] dovesnest.net. Dove’s Nest has a variety of speakers to educate, train, and assist congregations with child protection policies, the Circle of Grace curriculum, and topics related to child abuse prevention, healthy relationships, and boundaries.