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New sex education program being designed for freshmen

March 23, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

WASHINGTON COUNTY

High school assemblies this spring will give as many as 1,700 freshmen exposure to a part of the curriculum most at that grade level have not been getting - sexual education.

"I think this is a baby step, starting out small and eventually making it bigger," said Laurel Good, associate director of Girls Inc., which is helping to develop the new program.

The 90-minute presentations, which will take place at each of Washington County's public high schools, will feature skits prepared by Girls Inc. and information - including graphic pictures of the effects of sexually-transmitted infections - from the health department. To participate, students will have to have the permission of their parents, Washington County Public Schools Deputy Superintendent for Instruction Patricia Abernethy said Wednesday.

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On Tuesday, the Board of Education's curriculum and instruction committee met with representatives from area agencies to discuss plans for the assemblies as part of ongoing efforts to help combat the county's high teen pregnancy rate.

According to Washington County Health Officer William Christoffel, there were 206 females between the ages of 15 and 19 who had babies in 2004, an increase from 185 births in 2003. The county's teen birth rate is the fourth highest in the state.

Though dates have not been set, the school system is planning to conduct presentations for parents featuring the same information their children will see later at assemblies. It also will provide parents information they can use at home to spark discussions, said Ed Masood, supervisor of arts, health and physical education/athletics.

A 67-slide PowerPoint presentation prepared by the Washington County Health Department includes images diagramming how to put on a condom and the effects of conditions such as the herpes virus. As it currently is laid out, the presentation includes a slide with the words, "ABSTINENCE Saying NO is 100% effective AND the best choice." The next slides contain information about condoms, birth control and other contraception.

Because of the graphic images, the school system will require that parents sign permission slips allowing their children to participate in the assemblies, Masood said.

The school system has experienced about 99 percent participation in classes offered to students in grades 7, 8 and 10 featuring information about the subject, Masood said.

In the future, the school system would consider offering the assemblies earlier in the year, Abernethy said.

The information will help students, who do not always think in terms of "forever" to see how their choices can affect the future, Abernethy said.

"I think we're going to go a long way toward getting the correct information out about the consequences of your choices," Abernethy said.

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