By TRAVIS MORSE
MT. VERNON — — Second graders at the Primary Center learned about body safety issues and how to recognize sexual abuse during a Body Boundaries presentation Wednesday afternoon.
The educational program is held annually for kindergartners and second graders at Primary. Wednesday's presentation was delivered by Cheryl McKay, a prevention educator for the Amy Center in Mt. Vernon.
McKay stressed that the program is not sex education and no anatomical names are used during the presentation. Instead, the phrase “private body parts” is used and they are defined as those parts covered by a bathing suit.
The overall goal of the program is to prevent child sexual abuse and to empower kids to report it if it does occur, McKay said.
“It's to teach them about it and hopefully help them to, if it is happening, to interrupt it and to tell, not to be afraid to tell and know that they can,” McKay said.
During her speech Wednesday, McKay used dolls to demonstrate the difference between “nice touch,” “mean touch,” and “confusing touch.”
She also showed the students an illustrated book developed by the Amy Center called “How to Keep Me Safe.”
The Amy Center is a children's advocacy organization that serves a seven-county region in South Central Illinois.
One of the center's main functions is to educate students and school staff in the region about how to recognize and prevent sexual abuse.
McKay said she and her partner at the Amy Center conduct prevention programs at schools throughout the region, covering pre-kindergarten students to eighth graders.
The presentations for younger children are introductory and deal with more basic information. Programs for higher grade levels, such as seventh and eighth, delve into more complicated issues like sexual harassment, relationship abuse and Internet safety, McKay said.
“They are age appropriate,” McKay said of the presentations.
Primary Center Principal Shannon Marler said the Body Boundaries program is an important education and awareness tool to help prevent child abuse.
“I think it's probably good that they are aware of their bodies and what the boundaries are for them,” Marler said.
Marler also said the “light-hearted” nature of the presentation makes it easier for children to understand the issues and less scary for them.
At the end of her speech Wednesday, McKay explained to the students that child sexual abuse is rare, but they should learn about it so they can “keep safe.”
She used the example of fire and tornado drills being held at the school even though it's unlikely such disasters would occur.
“The reason we talk about it is so you know what it is and what to do,” McKay said.