Family, community, school combine for sex education

Yavapai County Health Department provides outreach and education services to schools, including Mingus Union High School. Photo courtesy of Thinkstock.

Yavapai County Health Department provides outreach and education services to schools, including Mingus Union High School. Photo courtesy of Thinkstock.

VERDE VALLEY - Kidnapping and sexual assault charges were dropped last week against three Mingus Union High School students, and Principal Jennifer Chilton said in a statement that it's too soon to gauge the impact the incident has had on campus.

"Of course allegations of this nature, involving teens, impact school culture," Chilton said. "The focus of our teachers and administrators throughout this incident has been to ensure focus on instruction and to ensure that a safe learning environment is maintained for all students."

Members of faculty make sure classroom discussions are focused on curriculum, she said.

"Faculty and staff are performing supervisory duties as usual, but of course with heightened awareness following the recent criminal allegations," Chilton said.

All students have access to campus guidance counselors, she said, and an incident report process is in place for instances of harassment, intimidation, or bullying.

"Counselors are familiar with community resources, and refer students and families to appropriate community resources if needs are beyond the scope of the school guidance office," she said.

Students can spend four years at Mingus, graduate, and never take a sex education course. Chilton said sex education in schools is focused on reproductive health and informed decision-making, and not necessarily acts of violence or crime like sexual assault.

"Awareness of such dangers, and personal safety in general, is also important for teens and adults alike, but is a separate educational endeavor," she said. "In partnership with families and community agencies, the school plays a role in providing personal safety information."

Mingus' elective Decisions Health class has been taught at Mingus for over eight years, a course Chilton said is based on past Arizona physical education standards.

Chilton said those who enroll learn about peer pressure and harassment, as well as manipulation or coercion.

The class also educates students about assertive refusal, she said, and discusses date rape situations and danger signs.

"All people in our society, not just high school students, would benefit from increased awareness and intolerance of sexual violence," she said.

Mingus is going to continue partnering with guidance and community groups, as well as law enforcement, to bring students the most beneficial information, Chilton said.

"As we look ahead, we will seek further opportunities to educate students about safe, responsible, and civil social media use," she said.

Health Educator Katie McCabe at the Yavapai County Health Department provides outreach and education services to schools, including Mingus Union High School.

McCabe said county health educators tie in information about what a healthy relationship is, and what an unhealthy relationship is.

"The problem with all of this is it's all about getting approval from schools and then finding classroom time to do it," she said.

She's seen classes with freshmen to seniors in Mingus's Decisions Health class.

"This particular school year, we have not yet been there," McCabe said.

She's also worked with students at Cottonwood Middle School and its Bridgeway program, the Verde Valley School, and Big Park Community School.

With parent consent, sixth, seventh, and eighth graders take the course each year, McCabe said. At Mingus, it's not part of the required curriculum.

"It's based upon the relationships I have with teachers and finding classroom time with them," she said. "It's not as solid as at the middle school. At the middle school, I see almost all the students."

In McCabe's experience, repetition has an impact.

"It's been very effective seeing the kids repetitive years," she said. "Seeing them as sixth graders, seventh graders and eighth graders, you can tell each year they retain some of the information, but it's a very good refresher because they also forgot a lot of information."

Sex education for Camp Verde High School students comes from Youth Empowerment Services, said Principal Bob Weir.

With parent consent, freshman physical education students take the class as a component of their nine-week health section.

Students are taught about what it means to consent or say no, but Weir said it's difficult to tell how well the students absorb the message.

"Freshmen are freshmen when it comes to the maturity level," he said. "They get the gist of it and what's appropriate and not appropriate."

Weir said the school reinforces notions of having strong character and making smart choices.

"There's more to high school education than just reading, writing and math," he said. "You've got to also learn how to be a citizen, and that's making good choices."

Follow the reporter on Twitter @ymgonzal and Instagram @VerdeValleyNews

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