Grace strives to equip students with knowledge and skills that can help them live happy and healthy lives. That’s why our program strives to help students develop habits of self awareness and reflection, to acquire skills for maintaining healthy relationships and for making wise decisions, and to nurture a desire to serve the common good and honor the dignity of all. The benefits of this approach for individual students can be obvious: these are vital lessons, and learning them pays academic dividends and not just social and emotional ones. The benefits for the community are real, too, for the skills students learn are shaped, tested, and refined in their application at school, as students practice emotional resilience and generosity, face challenges with courage and intention, and experience the support and grace of a community striving to cultivate understanding, humility, respect, and love.

Grace’s Health and Wellness curriculum works in age-appropriate ways both to promote a healthy sense of self and to protect students from unwanted touching and sexual abuse. Students of every age practice the communication skills necessary for establishing personal boundaries and for responding when they are at risk of being breached, and supportive adults coach students through navigating difficult conversations with peers and are always available to help.
 
Our youngest students begin by learning correct terms for body parts, while our elementary and middle-division students are taught  to understand how power can be abused and how to ask for help for themselves or others. Middle and High School students take courses each year in health and wellness, including a required ninth grade violence prevention and personal safety course taught by partners from Prepare, Inc, and a required tenth grade human sexuality and substances course. To fulfil their lab studies requirements, eleventh and twelfth grade students must additionally take a certain number of classes related to personal wellbeing; in recent years, those have included courses like “Blurred Lines: Media & Rape Culture” and “Understanding Power & Control: Consent vs. Coercion.”
 
Because we know that academic achievement and student health and well-being are interdependent, Grace Church School is committed to prioritizing the physical, social, and emotional health and safety of our students. Research has shown that age-appropriate, scaffolded, comprehensive sexuality education plays a crucial role in promoting healthy child development and protecting young people from harm. An overview of the developmentally appropriate curriculum at each age level is below.

List of 4 frequently asked questions.

  • Kindergarten - Grade 4

    While there are not currently formal Health and Wellness classes for our Kindergarten through third grade students, their homeroom teachers routinely discuss matters related to developing healthy friendships, communicating about one’s personal boundaries and respecting those of others, and asking for adult help. Students learn about the distinction between safe and unsafe touching, which can help children to protect themselves and, and in the case of abuse, to know that it is not the child’s fault. The ability to correctly identify body parts from a young age further increases the likelihood that a child experiencing abuse would report the incident. Beyond the benefits of protecting children from negative outcomes, the topics relating to health & wellness that arise naturally in JK through 3rd grade promote students' healthy transition to adolescence.

    Our curriculum about sexual Health and Wellness begins in fourth grade.

    We believe that parents are–and should be–their children’s primary sexuality educators, and our goal at Grace is to create a partnership with them in support of their children’s healthy sexual development and transition to adolescence. We appreciate that these conversations often start at home, and that parents have the unique responsibility of transmitting their own family values and personal beliefs to their children. The aim of the curriculum at school, by contrast, is to support families by providing students with age-appropriate, fact-based information that will help build their self- and social awareness, decision-making ability, and relationship skills.

    Fourth Grade students take courses in Health and Wellness for the first time in a series of six lessons addressing topics like gender, puberty, and healthy relationships. These classes set the tone for future health classes in middle and high school.
  • Middle School

    In Fifth Grade Health and Wellness, students continue the study of healthy relationships, personal safety, anatomy and physiology, identity, and puberty and adolescent development. They also begin to learn about sexual and reproductive anatomy, puberty and reproduction, and HIV. They also begin to explore big questions like, “What is love?”

    In Sixth Grade Health and Wellness, students learn about gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, assigned sex, consent and boundaries, conflict resolution, and bullying. Students also learn about social media and the effects it can have on a person’s mental health, along with the privacy issues that come up on a public platform where friendships are managed in part. Health and Wellness classes also provide students with decision-making skills and explore ways to communicate about one’s needs.

    In seventh grade Health & Wellness, students expand their understanding of gender and sexuality, consent, boundaries, and managing social media. Students learn about contraception, protection, and how to make informed and healthy choices.  Through group work, small projects, and visiting guest teachers, students explore sexual myths, gender expression, and gender expectations. Using an anonymous survey, questions are answered about such topics as managing menstruation, navigating relationships, understanding our changing bodies, and dealing with school pressures.

    In eighth grade, Health and Wellness students participate in discussions, lessons, and activities exploring topics such as self-esteem and body image, stress management, alcohol and marijuana, and sexual health. Students continue talking about social media, managing conflicts, and gender. Students collaborate on projects exploring how these topics can affect them and learn strategies and tips they can incorporate into their routines.
  • High School

    All ninth graders take a course called Understanding Personal Safety taught in partnership with health educators from Prepare. The class teaches a range of personal safety skills, including: problem solving under stress; predicting violence and aggression, avoidance options, verbal strategies, and physical resistance techniques; and verbal and non-verbal communication skills to handle conflict, boundary violations, inappropriate behaviors, and unwelcome touch. Students practice skills in interactive scenarios and each student receives one-on-one coaching. 

    In the tenth grade Health and Wellness course, Making Choices in Sexuality & Substances, students receive support and tools for important personal decision-making. The course talks about love and intimacy, healthy vs. unhealthy relationships, power and control, sexually-transmitted infections, human reproduction and contraception, and sexually explicit media. The course also tackles the questions of substance use head on, exploring topics like how substance use affects the teen brain, the effects of social influences and stress, and substance abuse prevention strategies.

    In eleventh and twelfth grade students continue their studies in Health and Wellness by choosing classes from an array of Lab Day electives. Juniors are required to take at least one Health and Wellness course as a graduation requirement, and seniors are required to choose from a variety of courses, and many choose Health and Wellness electives. Courses include: Science & the Public Sphere, Changing the Way Society Views Mental Health, Understanding Power & Control, and Senior Life Skills.
  • Parent Education

    We see parent education as an important part of our supporting families as they teach their children about their development, sexuality, and forming healthy relationships. The school brings in experts to speak with parents and lead workshops in a range of topics, including the core needs of children and adolescents, talking to children about consent and forming healthy boundaries. Each year the school engages different speakers on the most relevant topics at hand.

Student Support Guides

In addition to the full-time counseling staff, the High School Division has a program called, “Student Support Guides,” which is a team of 16 adults at the school who’ve volunteered to participate in ongoing mental-health first-aid training. Student Support Guides (SSG’s) have learned to perform a risk-assessment protocol if a student approaches them, to first ensure that there's no risk of a student harming themselves, harming anyone else, or being harmed by anyone (in any of these cases the student would be immediately accompanied to the counselor or nurse).  
 
In the absence of any imminent risk, SSGs have been trained to listen non-judgmentally to a wide range of student concerns, and to provide a sounding board for students to work through issues out loud with a trusted adult who can offer support, intervention, or access to further resources, as needed. Students were clearly told that SSGs are not mental health professionals, but are a network of adult volunteers who want to offer additional guidance and support to students during these tricky times.



Mandated Reporting

Grace faculty and staff take seriously their responsibilities as mandated reporters.  The school requires an annual review of our policies for maintaining healthy boundaries with students and regular training about their legal duties as mandated reporters. Going forward, we will ensure annual, in-person training for faculty and staff.

Training & Professional Development

Our commitment to promoting the safety and well-being of our students requires ongoing vigilance in examining and, where possible, improving our practices for keeping children safe. We live out that commitment by seeking the advice of experts in protecting the safety of minors in educational settings, by making time to build skill among the faculty and staff, and by working continuously to ensure Grace sets the highest standards for our policies, protocols, and culture of child safety.

In the Spring of 2019, the School completed a thorough review of its guidelines for professional relationships with students, and the faculty and staff have engaged in training with outside consultants from Prepare, Inc and T&M Protection. We have implemented improved safeguards designed to detect and prevent predatory behaviors, including protocols and reporting systems, background checks for all new hires, and training that exceeds what is currently mandated by law.

For recent steps taken in response to Cozen O'Connor's Investigative Report and to the External Review Committee's recommendations, please click here.

External Review

Following reports of historical abuse received in 2019, the school’s Board of Trustees and the Vestry of Grace Church jointly authorized the creation of an External Review Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Harassment. The Committee included unaffiliated professionals with expertise in church safety, school safety, parenting, physical plant security, and survivor experience. Members of the Committee had broad latitude to examine the policies, culture, physical plant, and systems of accountability designed to keep our communities free from sexual misconduct and harassment. You can read more about the members of the committee and read their full charge here. 

The Committee found that the school and church have already adopted many measures set forth in that report. “If we had a single recommendation to make,” they wrote, “it would be to continue and renew approaching the issue of sexual misconduct based on the tenets and best practices recommendations contained in the NAIS/TABS report.” Specifically, the Committee suggested clarifying and tightening the prevention and response processes, including delineation of responsibility, reporting, screening, training, tracking and decision-making. We are evaluating every suggestion and will report on further steps in the near future.

The full report and related materials are available here.
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Grace Church School is a co-educational independent school in downtown Manhattan, New York City providing instruction for nearly 800 students in Junior Kindergarten through Grade 12.