A program that educates thousands of Akron-area fifth- and sixth-graders each year about human growth, development and reproduction is getting a new home.

The nonprofit Health Education Center of Akron Inc. is moving this week from the Morley Health Center in downtown Akron to the Balch Street Community Center.

The Health Education Center is a field-trip destination for 2,000 to 3,000 students per year from Akron Public Schools and other districts and private schools throughout the region.

Middle-school students come to the center to spend two hours learning about personal hygiene, puberty, fetal development and the male and female reproductive systems during an abstinence-based curriculum, said director Kristen Sharp, who has a master’s degree in health education.

The program includes models, displays and a multi-media presentation with “some fifth- and sixth-grade humor sprinkled in there,” Sharp said. “We strongly maintain respect for our bodies and for the topic.”

The center opted to lease space in the city-owned property because the Summit County health department is running out of available room in the downtown Akron building, she said. The renovations cost more than $20,000.

The Health Education Center started in the 1970s after then-Akron Health Commissioner John Morley had the idea to provide sexuality education and drug prevention for area middle-school students. As D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) programs spread, the center has opted in recent years to focus only on sexuality education.

Parents sign a permission slip for students to participate.

“The parents, we’re just here to augment their efforts,” Sharp said. “The parents are the primary educators of everything — their morals, their beliefs.”

Students benefit from getting out of their regular classrooms to learn about their changing bodies and reproduction, Sharp said.

“We have found that it is so effective to get them out of their environment when we’re talking about such a sensitive topic,” she said. “They’re able to hear the information. They’re able to grasp the information more.”

Classes will begin Friday at the center’s new location, 220 S. Balch St., Akron.

For more information about the Health Education Center, go online to http://itstime?forthetalk.com.

Study examines spanking

New research published last week in the online version of the professional journal Pediatrics links spanking young children with future bad behavior and lower vocabulary.

The study examined parental reports of spanking their children between ages 3 and 5 and then followed their behavior and vocabulary at age 9.

The researchers found even low levels of corporal punishment by mothers at age 5 “was associated with higher levels of child externalizing behavior at age 9, even after an array of risks and earlier child behaviors were controlled for.” Externalizing behaviors include physical aggression, verbal bullying, defiance and other harmful actions.

Children who were frequently spanked by their fathers at age 5 had lower receptive vocabulary scores at age 9, according to the report.

Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or cpowell@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.