Lauren Book is on a journey to show children how to be safe and feel safe.
She is a survivor of child abuse by a live-in nanny. In 2001, at age 16, she made the decision to disclose what happened to her.
As a state senator, and founder of the nonprofit Lauren’s Kids, Book is an advocate for child safety and child abuse prevention.
Now in its eighth year, Book’s “Walk in My Shoes” tour takes her 1,500 miles from Key West to Tallahassee, with zigzags along the way to meet as many students as possible.
On March 13, she stopped at San Antonio Elementary School, outside Dade City, to teach a lesson about “Safer, Smarter Schools.”
Her traveling companion is a floppy-eared blue dog, named Buddy. He is a celebrity among kindergarteners and elementary school students who recognize him from a Safer, Smarter video.
Pasco County Schools adopted Book’s Safer, Smarter Schools’ curriculum several years ago. It is available free of charge to all Florida schools.
Buddy’s appearance – his first at San Antonio – got whoops, high-fives and hugs. He led the students on a walk around their campus as part of Book’s Florida trek in support of child safety.
Book greeted the students with the high energy of a kindergarten teacher, which is what she once was before founding her nonprofit in 2007.
She since has written a memoir, “It’s OK to Tell.” And, she recently published a children’s book, “Lauren’s Kingdom,” about a young girl who is abused by a babysitter, and turns to a friend for help.
“We’re so excited to be here,” said Book, who spent about 20 minutes each with three groups of kindergartners and first-graders.
She drew a stick figure of what they think a stranger looks like. Each time was the same.
He was a man with messy hair and clothes, and mean, angry eyes. He had a gun or knife, or even a crowbar.
But, when she asked them if she was a stranger, they told her no.
And, that was the first lesson on safety.
“Guess what? I’m a stranger,” Book said. “Strangers are just people we don’t know well.”
The rest of the lesson moved on to the “buddies” in a student’s safety triangle. They can be grownups at school or home, and they must be able to drive a car.
Safety was taught with broad strokes, covering a variety of issues.
There was never a mention of child abuse.
Instead, Book asked the children how they would feel if a friend knocked them down. The response would be to tell a buddy.
And, it was another lesson learned.
“If something makes you feel uncomfortable, you’re going to go to someone in your trusted circle,” Book tells them. “You get to decide if a touch is safe or unsafe.”
Lorynn Gutierrez, the school’s guidance counselor, said San Antonio adopted the program about four years ago.
“It’s a safety curriculum, but it also empowers kids to listen to their inner voice,” Gutierrez said.
On average, about four students a year at San Antonio discloses situations of child abuse, she said.
The curriculum is meant to establish a relationship with the children, school staff and parents, said Book. “It’s done in a fun and safe way,” she said.
And, she added, “It’s not a one-and-done road show. So, when they do feel unsafe, kids know who they’ll disclose to and can trust.”
At the end of each session, Book awarded each class with a small, plush toy Buddy. Each student will be able to take Buddy home, but they must write a safety story in a journal that they also take home.
“It’s very important that kids use their voices and advocate for themselves,” Book said.
For information, visit LaurensKids.org.