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‘Equipped and empowered’: All HCPS secondary schools adopt human trafficking curriculum

A human trafficking curriculum that started as a pilot project at two Henrico County high schools is being expanded to all 22 of the school division’s middle and high schools.

Trevor Dickerson

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A human trafficking curriculum that started as a pilot project at two Henrico County high schools is being expanded to all 22 of the school division’s middle and high schools. The “Prevention Project” uses research-based, age-appropriate lessons to equip students to recognize the warning signs of human trafficking and empower them to practice healthy boundaries to keep themselves safe.

More than 55,000 students in 21 states have used the curriculum since it debuted as part of a 2012 pilot program at Hermitage and Mills Godwin high schools. The initial program was created using seed money from AT&T, and has since been expanded by Freekind, a Virginia-based nonprofit.

“It’s exciting to see it come full circle,” said Jeannine Chewning, a former teacher at Hermitage High School who helped implement the pilot program. “I taught the Prevention Project curriculum for 11 years and saw firsthand how it equipped and empowered my students to share their knowledge throughout the community. In fact, adoption of the program countywide is a direct result of persistent advocacy by graduates of the program, and I couldn’t be prouder of what they’ve accomplished.”

The curriculum will be taught this spring as part of HCPS health and P.E. classes. The high school curriculum has six lessons, while a version appropriate for middle school classes has two lessons. Parents and guardians may choose for their students to opt out of participation in the units.

Polaris Project, a nonprofit advocacy organization that runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline, reported 16,710 victims in U.S. states and territories in 2021, up from 12,011 victims in 2015. Eighty-three percent of U.S. victims reported that their trafficking began between childhood and age 23.

Adopting the curriculum is part of HCPS’ continued efforts to strengthen its multitiered approach to student safety. In 2023, the school division allocated $5 million to fund the recommendations of a blue ribbon safety panel. Among other security enhancements, weapons detectors are being installed at all high schools and middle schools during the 2023-24 school year. Learn more about how the division prioritizes safety at https://www.henricoschools.us/o/hcps/page/safety.

Learn more about the Prevention Project program at https://www.prevention-project.org/. More about Freekind can be found at https://www.freekindva.org/.

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Trevor Dickerson is the Editor and Co-Founder of RVAHub.