More than 1,500 middle school students and freshmen in the Rend Lake College district are expected to benefit directly during the next year from an Abstinence Education Grant awarded by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
Rend Lake College is the only community college in the nation to share in the $15 million program designed to help communities develop and implement abstinence education programs for young people ages 12-18. HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson announced 28 grant recipients last week.
College officials were notified of the $298,080 federal grant by Congressman John Shimkus (R, Illinois - 19).
The "In-Focus/Keep-Focused" Abstinence Education Project through Rend Lake College mirrors the current "Future Focus" program which already offers education, counseling, career exploration and cultural events to grade and middle school students in Franklin and Jefferson counties.
"Keep-Focused" will now serve Benton Consolidated High School and Mt. Vernon Township High School freshmen, in addition to other freshmen at Hamilton County High School in McLeansboro, Pinckneyville Community High School and Zeigler-Royalton High School; the five participating high schools boast 800-plus 9th-graders.
"In-Focus" will reach out to about 375 students in Grade 7 and a like number of 8th-graders attending Field Grade School near Mt. Vernon, Ina Grade School, McClellan Grade School, McLeansboro Junior High, Pinckneyville #204, Pinckneyville Junior High, St. Bruno Catholic School in Pinckneyville, Rome Grade School in Dix and Zeigler-Royalton Grade School.
It is designed as a three-year project totalling $867,900, according to RLC Resource Development Specialist Trudee Wynn, funding permitted.
"When adolescents become sexually active, it can have negative effects on their physical and emotional health," Secretary Thompson noted. "These grants create an environment within communities that supports teens in their decision to remain abstinent until marriage."
The 28 Community-Based Abstinence Education implementation grants were awarded to both public and private entities, including community-based and faith-based organizations, hospitals, health centers, school systems and other youth service agencies. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) branch of HHS expects to announce the availability of another round of abstinence grants this fall.
"Abstinence education is designed as an intervention to reduce the number of teens who have premarital sex and who may not be emotionally or financially ready for the consequences," commented HRSA Administrator Elizabeth M. Duke.
Interventions are designed to reduce the number of adolescents who engage in premarital sexual activity and, consequently, the number of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, and to encourage youth to avoid other risky behaviors associated with early sexual involvement, such as alcohol and drug use.
The grant application submitted by Wynn emphasized a rural, low-income district where the need is great due to several factors – high unemployment; low educational attainment for local residents; high child abuse and neglect rates, and extremely high teenage pregnancy rates.
"In-Focus/Keep-Focused" will strive to meet the needs of its target population through classroom abstinence-only education; individual and family counseling; career exploration and goal-setting, and a variety of cultural opportunities on- and off-campus.
In addition to a more systematic approach to educating students on ways to practice an abstinent lifestyle, the project also is designed to teach the type of decision and refusal skills needed for students to live with the positive choices they make.
While the major focus of instruction and programming activities will be abstinence from sexual activity until marriage, abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, other drugs and violence likewise will be stressed. The program will give students the opportunity to learn alternative, healthy behaviors that encourage success in life and promote positive decision-making. Emphasis will be placed on the knowledge of what can be achieved when they choose this lifestyle.
Lisa Price, coordinator of the RLC "Future Focus" prevention program the past five years, will assume the role of "In-Focus/Keep-Focused" Project Director. The college is now in search of a Project Coordinator, two "In-Focus" Counselors and one "Keep-Focused" Counselor.
Price is Director of both the RLC Counseling Center and K-12 Programs, which includes Teen Parent Services, Welfare-to-Work and Department of Children and Family Services Life Skills Instruction. Prior to returning to her alma mater, Price was a Family Counselor and a Pregnancy and Parenting Home-Based Therapist for the Youth Services Bureau of Franklin-Williamson Human Services, Inc.
The Abstinence Education Grant Program was started in Fiscal Year 2001 and is funded as part of the agency’s Special Projects of Regional and National Significance (SPRANS).
Only two other awards were made to Illinois-based agencies -- the Lawndale Christian Health Center in Chicago and the Confederation of Spanish-American Workers in suburban Melrose Park.
Only three other colleges and/or universities were singled out -- University of South Alabama, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles and Medical College of Georgia.
Area schools currently served by "Future Focus" are Casey Middle School, Bethel Grade School and Dodds Grade School, all in Jefferson County, and Benton Middle School, Akin Grade School, Ewing-Northern Grade School and Logan Grade School in Franklin County.