Instead of focusing on what an abusive and violent relationship might look like, schools in the Sanderson Alliance teach their students the importance of self-respect and what defines a healthy relationship.
After recognising the prevalence of domestic and family violence in the broader Darwin community, the schools in the alliance chose to focus specifically on how they could help their students who might be dealing with violence at home.
What is the Sanderson Alliance?The Sanderson Alliance is a group of educators, service providers, philanthropists and government agencies in the suburbs of Anula, Wulagi, Malak and Karama whose goal is to work collectively on the ethos that children have "a right to be safe and cared for".
Susan Kilgour is the principal of Wulagi Primary school, part of the alliance, and said the goal was to "address social and complex issues that no single organisation or family [could] improve on their own".
"We try to know and notice that we can't do it on our own, we can't do it alone," she said.
Karen Cieri from the alliance said choosing to focus on domestic violence as a community issue was a collaborative decision.
"We had to find a place to start and so the idea was we were going to do a 100-day challenge on an issue that we all agreed was important to all of us," she said.
"For 100 days we would have some impact on that issue, that in doing so we would learn something about that issue and we would learn something about how to work together."
Ms Kilgour said the program gave her the courage to acknowledge that they were looking at domestic violence statistics.
"We were looking at that as an impact on children and we flipped it to talk about positive relationships," she said.
"But under that flip was domestic violence and disrespectful relationships and people hurting people."
Students were also given the opportunity to express themes taught at school at an art exhibition by the alliance held in May.
What do the schools teach?For Wulagi Primary School students, education focuses on instilling self-respect and self-awareness.
Their programs Rock and Water, for younger years, and Blue Earth, for older years, teach those values through literature, roleplay and games.
"[They] unpack and explore the values of respect, resilience and persistence," Ms Kilgour said.
Liz Veel is the principal of Sanderson Middle School and said the focus on positive relationships continued once children left primary school.
"Building on the foundations year after year and strengthening on already existing strengths is a very important part," she said.
"In that aspect it's very important for the primary schools and the middle schools to align what they're doing in those approaches.
"That's part of the responsibility of the Sanderson Alliance."
Ms Veel said once students reached Year 9 they took part in a course by the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN) called Love Bites.
"The focus is really on promoting positive relationships in many ways, not just your thinking but also through behavioural change," she said.
The Northern Territory manager of NAPCAN, Lesley Taylor, said Love Bites also taught students the signs of an unhealthy relationship.
"They need to talk about what's going wrong in relationships ... so that young people can see when their friends are entering into or engaging in unhealthy behaviours in their relationships and can take action and support them."
Has it worked?While the way students disclose violence differs, Ms Kilgour and Ms Veel agreed that having the confidence and knowledge helped children come forward.
"As opposed to early childhood and primary, middle-year children mainly confide in each other way before they'll tell an adult," Ms Veel said.
"They're then connected to an adult in the school that they can tell."
She said in particular the number of older students raising issues increased after they undertook the Love Bites program.
"Our counsellor's workload rises over that time because students become empowered with the language to verbalise what they're thinking and feeling," Ms Veel said.
Given the ages of students at Wulagi Primary School, Ms Kilgour said their disclosures were usually to teachers or other staff.
Ms Kilgour said having such a strong emphasis on self-respect and self-care was "a way of giving [students] permission" to come forward.
"Which then brings in some of the disclosures and our teachers are trained in protective behaviours so they know what they're listening for and know what to do".
Written by Georgia Hitch and published at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-09/domestic-violence-education-being-flipped-on-its-head-in-darwin/8601670