Safe Environment Faith-based Program (PreK-12)

Out of concern for all God’s people, Lancaster Mennonite School has a program for the safe environment education of children and young people. This program is called Circle of Grace. It is meant to supplement and be integrated into our current faith-based curricula. Circle of Grace aims to equip our children and young people by arming them with essential knowledge and skills grounded in the richness of our Christian faith. This program helps children and young people to understand their own (and other’s) dignity in mind, body, and spirit.

Teachers will implement Circle of Grace during the month of October. Some high school students will have lessons second semester, depending on their schedule. LM welcomes parents/guardians to be involved in discussing with their children topics that are talked about in their classes.

What is a Circle of Grace?

The Christian faith teaches that God has created each of us as unique and special. Genesis 1:27 tells us that we are created “male and female in God’s image” and that God saw this as “very good.” In that goodness, we are meant to respect ourselves and everyone else as persons created and loved by God. Adults assist children and young people to recognize God’s love by helping them to understand that each of us lives and moves in a circle of grace. You can imagine your own circle of grace by putting your arms above your head then circle down in front of your body including side to side. This circle, front to back, holds who you are in your body and through your senses. It holds your very essence in mind, heart, soul, and sexuality.

Why is it important to help our children understand the Circle of Grace?

God intends our relationships in life to be experiences of divine love. Respectful, nurturing, loving relationships increase our understanding of our own value and help us to love others. It is never too early to help children and young people understand how very special they are and how relationships in life are called to be sacred. Understanding this can help them to protect the special person they are and to be respectful of others. Adults, especially parents, as they strive to provide a safe and protective environment, hold the responsibility to help children and young people understand and respect their own dignity and that of others. A truly safe and protective environment is one where children and young people recognize when they are safe or unsafe and know how to bring their concerns, fears, and uncertainties to the trusted adults in their lives.

How is the Circle of Grace Program different from other protection programs?

According to research, one in four girls and one in seven boys will be sexually abused by age eighteen. Many protection programs focus on “stranger danger”; however, up to ninety percent (90%) of the time the perpetrator of abuse is known to the child or young person such as a relative or family friend. Circle of Grace goes beyond just protection by helping children and young people understand the sacredness of who they are and how to seek help through their relationships with trusted adults.

Please feel free to contact your school office or principal if you have questions or want more information.

Tips for Parents

Even “Nice” People Sometimes Do Mean Things.

Abusers are experts at looking friendly, nice, safe, kind, generous and loving. A child is vulnerable when the other person has more: age (older), size (bigger), knowledge, resources, status and/or power. REMEMBER: Up to 30% of abusers/offenders are under the age of 18. Abusers use manipulative behaviors to gain control: flattery, bribery, jealousy, intimidation, and anger. Abusers manipulate parents along with children.

Pay Close Attention To Who Is Around Your Children.

Parents should know where their children are and who they are with. Children should know how to contact their parents. Use the buddy system: Take a buddy or don’t go. Refuse to leave your children with someone you don’t trust. No job or event is worth your child’s safety.

Listen To What Your Children Say.

Encourage communication by taking seriously what your children say. Increase your child’s vocabulary by helping them name feelings. Back up your child’s right to say “NO.” Role Play: A child who never says “no” to a parent will never say “no” to another adult. Give children permission to yell for help.

Take A Second Look At Potential Danger.

Be cautious on the Internet, experts recommend computer use be monitored closely. Be selective when sharing personal information: including last name, telephone numbers, contact information, schools, activity schedules and occasions when someone is home alone. Talk about worse case scenarios and possible solutions to uncomfortable situations. Don’t follow anyone who takes your bicycle, book bag or purse – report theft instead. Watch out for children who are alone often.

Trust Your Instincts.

Listen to your gut feelings; if you have doubts, listen to them. Your body sometimes knows what your head hasn’t yet figured out.

Recognize Change In Your Child’s Behavior.

Change in behavior is a signal of change in your child’s life. It is important to tell your children “I will always love you” while asking them about the changed behavior. Make sure you continue to observe carefully and inquire with others who care for or about your child.

Model Healthy Boundaries and Limit Setting Behavior.

Be a good example.

Common Questions

How is this connected to the “Safe Environment” program?

Circle of Grace is the safe environment program for children/youth. The goal is to help children/youth understand the sacredness of who they are and how to seek help when needed through their relationships with trusted adults.

What information can this program give my child that they are not getting already?

The Circle of Grace Program reinforces in a peer setting that their faith community cares about their safety and wants them to understand how to seek help if they feel unsafe for any reason. It will help them identify potentially unsafe situations and know how to handle them by seeking help from trusted adults.

What do you mean by "life skills"?

It reinforces that they are valued by God and others. It gives them information on boundaries and practical directives of what to do if someone makes them feel uncomfortable when in their Circle of Grace. It is a good foundation for healthy relationships that will help them throughout their lives.

Will this program be age appropriate?

Yes! There will be an ongoing evaluation of the program to ensure its effectiveness and to incorporate any suggestions that would improve the quality of the program.

Will there be resources (people and material) available if I have questions?

Yes! There will be a parent packet given to all parents that includes contact numbers.

Shouldn’t parents be the ones teaching their children about sexuality?

Absolutely! This is NOT a sex education program. Circle of Grace will provide children with a sound understanding of their own value and of God’s care and presence in their lives. It will also help them notice the signals that tell them when they do not feel safe and how to talk to a trusted adult. All of this will be a good foundation for healthy relationships. However, this is not a sexuality education program. Many parents will appreciate that this program will provide a spiritual framework that will allow parent‐child communication about the value of all that they are, including their sexuality. Those conversations are most effective between parent and child.