$5,000 state grant goes toward sex education in Cornell school

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When parents, teachers and school board members in the Cornell School District met in early January to discuss concerns about teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, the superintendent and a teacher took quick action.

"At the January 2010 Education Committee Meeting, we discussed the need to incorporate a sex education curriculum into the secondary physical education classes," Superintendent Donna Belas said.

The day after the meeting she received an e-mail about "minigrants" available from the state Department of Education.

The application was long, required a lot of detail and had a short deadline - less than a month. But Sherah Ewusiak, Cornell's physical education and wellness teacher, got the application in on time.

The state received 60 application and awarded 35 minigrants - one of them a $5,000 grant to Cornell, which covers Coraopolis and Neville.

"We're a small district, and we try to take advantage of opportunities like this," Mrs. Belas said. Cornell has only 65 teachers and 700 students.

The grant will provide what the district calls "age appropriate HIV/STD pregnancy prevention curriculum" for grades seven through nine.

"We will start ASAP. We expect to get the check this week," Ms. Ewusiak said. Then school officials can purchase supplies approved in the grant, including textbooks and an overhead projector.

"I'll have a parents information meeting in April" and expect to start the classes in May, Ms. Ewusiak said.

Superintendent Belas said "if parents are not comfortable" with the sex education curriculum "we can give their students an alternate assignment. But typically the majority of parents are receptive."

Three Cornell students have gotten pregnant this school year, and Ms. Ewusiak said school officials often hear from girls who got pregnant shortly after they graduated.

One of those former students, whose child is now 1 year old, has been in touch with Ms. Ewusiak and said she was eager to speak to current students about the challenges - including the economic costs - of young parenthood.

A 2000 graduate of West Virginia University, Ms. Ewusiak has taught in the Cornell district for four years.

This is the second grant she brought to Cornel. She earlier obtained a $10,000 Highmark Healthy 5 School Challenge Grant.

Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-722-0087.


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