Worcester Schools, Advocacy Center Partner On Health Education Overhaul Focused On Child Advocacy

SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Board of Education will soon work with a child advocacy center to create new curriculum that will engage students in certain prevention practices.

Recently, the school system has been in the process of overhauling health education to implement a skills-based approach to learning, according to Tamara Mills, coordinator for health instruction.

This curriculum overhaul will soon include lessons that will teach students in Pre-K through 12th grade how to address and report sexual abuse.

“Our health classes have always talked about abuse,” Mills said. “But we are required to provide more specific sexual abuse curriculum based on the county.”

This addition comes nearly a year after five delegates introduced Maryland House Bill 72, also known as Erin’s Law, to the state legislature, Mills said.

The bill will require health instruction teachers in all public schools and certain private schools to incorporate age-appropriate sexual abuse awareness and prevention lessons into its curriculum.

Gov. Larry Hogan approved the bill in May, and each school system will be responsible for creating its own curriculum.

To that end, Mills said the Board of Education will start working with the CRICKET Center to make their lessons and information more relatable to Worcester County students.

Wendy Myers, program manager with the child advocacy center, said some school systems are working with outside agents to produce new material, but the Worcester County school system is working with the advocacy center to tailor its lessons to match the area’s needs. However, she said the curriculum must meet certain criteria set by the state.

“We have a national problem with under or unreported cases of abuse,” Mills said, but added that the CRICKET Center will provide more relevant information.

“We are delighted to partner with the school system, with something as important as child advocacy,” Myers said. “It’s our mission to provide preventative services. The prevention part is important for us, and we are very excited.”

In fiscal year 2016, the CRICKET Center identified 92 new cases of abuse, 37 maltreaters and 495 hours of trauma-based therapy, according to Myers. The victim’s average age was 7.

Mills said counselors will teach elementary and middle school students and health teachers will teach the high school students.

Board of Education representatives will meet with the CRICKET Center in the early part of spring to start establishing protocols and identify the new curriculum, which will take effect the 2017-2018 school year.

In the meantime, Mills said the county is preparing a new health curriculum that will change the way educators teach, as well as the way students learn.

Mills said she joined supervisors in Wicomico, Anne Arundel and Caroline counties last week to learn best practices for this application-based curriculum.

“We need to do better as health educators to engage them to apply these skills,” Mills said.

For example instead of teaching students the steps to washing their hands properly, Mills said students can actively perform that task. The same principle can also be applied to substance abuse, nutrition, and even sexual abuse, of which the CRICKET Center will be involved.

“It’s a great partnership we have with the Board of Education,” Myers said. “The important thing is the kids are getting the education.”

Mills said the Worcester County School Health Council will be running the curriculum and anyone interested in being a part of the process is welcome to attend its meetings.

“We want to be transparent about this issue,” she said.

Erin’s Law was named after Erin Merryn, an Illinois woman who was intermittently abused by family members from ages six to 13.

Since becoming an advocate for this educational curriculum, her site said that more than half of U.S. states have implemented this law.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.