By Tia Lynn Lecorchick Staff Writer

Morgan County Middle School held a series of sex education classes last month, continuing to educate students about their bodies, the reproductive system, STD-prevention, and overall sexual health. “The kids seem to like it. It’s very interactive and gives them an opportunity to ask questions,” said Adriane Strong, director of health education for the Northeast Health District in Morgan, Greene, and Elbert counties.

The classes featured the abstinence-based curriculum, FLASH (Family Life and Sexual Health), which is a free program, available online, and maintained by King County Public Health in Seattle. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, the program also “includes medically accurate information about sexually transmitted infections and contraception.”

The Georgia Department of Public Health released a statement in November attributing the positive response from students, parents, and teachers in Clarke County to the curriculum‘s implementation and acceptance in Morgan County.

“Since this program is free and available online, it is completely transparent and easily accessible, so parents can see exactly what their kids are being taught,” said Strong. “We encourage abstinence, but if someone chooses to be sexually active, there are facts they need to know. So, we have separate classes for girls and boys and we always first refer them back to their families to talk about sexual decisions.”

The courses are offered to middle schoolers as a counteractive measure to the rising rates of sexual activity among teenagers. The Georgia Department of Public Health reported that “surveys of teens in the Northeast Health District show that teens become more sexually active as they move through high school, from 25 percent as freshman to 65 percent as seniors in each of the district’s counties.

It takes a special effort to reach teens, so the district has trained health educators who are available to answer students’ questions in person and by text messages, as well as provide comprehensive sex and health education in several high schools.”

In addition to the classes taught in school, students are encouraged to take advantage of the local Teen Matters clinics, six total in surrounding counties operated of the Northeast Health District. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, “These clinics provide free or low-cost confidential health services for youth ages 11-19, including health education, birth control and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.

The Teen Matters clinics, along with the district’s health departments, provide services to more than 3,500 teens every year.” The clinics also provide free and anonymous hot-lines for teens to call in or text their questions.

“The anonymity allows students to ask the questions they might otherwise be too embarrassed to ask,” explained Strong. The classes and the clinics are all part of a statewide effort to combat teen pregnancy and promote sexual health.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, “although teen birth rates remain high in the Northeast Health District, they have declined by half over the past 20 years due to intensive teen pregnancy prevention efforts by the district and its community partners…So far, their efforts have been successful.

The district estimates that its family planning program has prevented 15,225 pregnancies, including 5,639 teen pregnancies, in the last five years, saving $106 million in hospital delivery and neonatal costs and $39 million in associated costs.” The Teen Matters central clinic is located at 168 S. Rocksprings Court in Athens. For more information, contact the central office at 706-369-5670 or text your questions to 706- 410-8558.