Coarsegold Elementary's fifth grade class is graduating tonight (Thursday) from a week-long, 10 hour RadKIDS Personal Empowerment Safety Education program where they learned how to react in a number of situations from school-yard bullying to abduction to Internet safety.
The program, geared for Kindergarten through age 12, was introduced to the area by the Madera County Sheriff's Department and was made possible by a Chukchansi Community Grant.
"We appreciate the support of the Madera County Sheriff's Office in helping bring this program to our campus," said Jim Sargent, Yosemite Unified School District superintendent. "We believe it is important for all our students to develop positive character and to be a part of building that at their school."
Since the program began in 1998, thousands of children have escaped sexual and physical abuse and more than 50 children have escaped a stranger abduction due to the program's training, according to documentation by program officials.
Two Coarsegold Elementary teachers volunteered to go through the RadKIDS certification process and become instructors -- fifth grade teacher Melinda Gresham and special education teacher Angela Moons.
"I think for me the most exciting part was watching these kids become more empowered and the quiet ones taking the power back and taking responsibility for their actions and the actions of each other," Gresham said.
In the past, Gresham said a lot of the safety programs scared children with the scenarios that were presented but RadKIDS has empowered them by giving them a plan for any situation.
One Coarsegold Elementary student has already put what he learned into practice.
"I saw a fight going on and held a kid back so he wouldn't get in the fight," said Kalub Moisa, 11. "He started pushing me in the face, so I walked away and told a teacher."
Moisa said that if the incident had occurred before attending the RadKIDS program, he probably would have tried punching back at the other student.
"They taught me how to defend myself," Moisa said. "It's important because if someone's trying to hurt you, you're just trying to defend yourself."
Moisa said the most important thing he learned about defending yourself -- when someone is trying to take your or hurt you -- is to run to a safety zone.
"It's resisting aggression defensively, we're not teaching them how to fight," Gresham said.
Children are taught how to escape potentially harmful or violent situations through block/run/tell. In block, students are taught tactics to block escape attackers while they scream, "No." Once they've escaped, they are taught to run to a place they have identified as a "safe zone" and inform a trusted adult about the incident that just occurred.
Children learn that a bully is anyone who tries to hurt them or their friends with words, threats or physical actions whether in person or on the Internet.
"Giving the students the power to stand up for themselves and the tools to stand up for themselves was a really empowering thing that came from the program," Gresham said. "They now know they can stand up to bullies and to people that are hurting them and they can take to heart that it's not their fault and know that they're special and that no one has the right to hurt them."
Before attending the program, Gresham said a lot of students had the belief that if something bad happened, there was no reason to tell anyone because nothing would change. However they are teaching students that they can talk to mentors at school, such as teachers and older students, which creates a collaborative program between classes. Gresham said she thinks the program will change the whole culture of the school and let students know that the "cool kids" are the ones that are doing what's right.
Coarsegold Elementary will teach RadKIDS to the kindergarten class in May. Gresham said she hopes to see all students trained next year. Rivergold Elementary has already taught the RadKIDS program to all the first graders and will do so with the third graders in April. Rivergold volunteer instructors are Gina Hansen-Sedor and Lynn Reimer.
Sargent said the district plans to continue the program and that more teachers and staff will attend RadKIDS training this summer.