REEF (Relationship Essentials that Equip Families)

The aim of REEF is to offer a primary prevention public health model for the youth in the middle schools and high schools of Calvert and St. Mary’s Counties. Shelby Whitlock, Care Net SoMD’s Outreach and Education Director, is the director of the REEF program. You can contact Shelby at 301-737-4604 x 17 or



Check out the video below, where a 16 year old student from Chopticon High School interviews Shelby Whitlock about the REEF program.

REEF uses the REAL Essentials Curriculum developed by the Center for Relationship Education.  Check out this brief video about the curriculum’s success in Weld County, Colorado.

The Focus of REEF is:

  • the value of thinking beyond the here and now; considering the now while focusing on the future.
  • how self-regulation and impulse control correlate to successes in life.
  • fostering positive feelings about setting boundaries and setting those boundaries early before they are in a situation where boundaries are necessary.
  • learning necessary skills for saying a clear “no”, practicing refusal skills to gain more confidence and trusting their instincts when feeling boundaries may be violated.
  • empowering youth with skills and language to discuss and set boundaries in relationships.
  • developing awareness of danger signs and red flags in relationships.
  • defining consent and assisting youth in understanding consent.
  • discovering how drug and alcohol use increases the vulnerability to sexual advances and the benefits of staying drug and alcohol free. 
What are the goals and objectives of this program?
  • REEF will assist youth in understanding the value of thinking beyond the here and now; considering the now while focusing on the future, demonstrating how self-regulation and impulse control correlate to successes in life.
  • REEF will cultivate the assurance of participant’s worth and value regardless of merit, performance, or appearance.
  • REEF will help youth recognize how they can alter their current and future actions and decisions with passion and purpose, through providing the understanding that living intentionally and with purpose can provide clear direction and reduce complications.
  • REEF will help youth learn the value of asking for help and identifying people and resources available for help.
  • REEF will enable and empower youth with communication tools for fostering understanding, creating safety and resolving conflict.
  • REEF will guide youth in learning the seven steps of healthy decision making to evaluate options when there is time for reflection and to practice those skills in a challenging scenario; in situations when an immediate decision is required the STOP, THINK, CHOOSE with INTENT model will be utilized.
  • REEF will help youth to identify the purpose of dating, adopt healthy dating guidelines, and understand the value of friendship as it applies to dating and the importance of being intentional about pursuing healthy romantic connections.
  • REEF will foster positive feelings about setting boundaries and setting those boundaries early before they re in teh situation where boundaries are necessary.
  • Youth will learn necessary skills for saying”no”, practice refusal skills to gain more confidence and learn to trust their instincts when feeling boundaries may be violated. 
  • REEF will introduce six types of intimacy; physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, financial and how each type of intimacy affects the health of the whole person.
  • REEF will encourage youth to see the incremental physical steps of intimacy; empowering them with skills and language to be able to discuss and set physical boundaries in relationships.  Youth will develop awareness of dangers signs and red flags in a relationship.
  • Youth will conceptualize what sexual activity means to them, through considering what culture and society say sex means and asking youth to take into account the physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, and financial aspects of sexual involvement.
  • Youth will discover alternatives to sexual activity through creative dating ideas and ways of being intimately close without moving through steps of physical intimacy.
  • REEF will guide youth in articulating at least three strategies that they can use to rise above situations that put them at risk and asking for help from their peer group and parents or trusted adult.
  • Youth will develop break-up skills to provide help to protect against any form of abuse, establish skills to know how to respond when feeling unsafe, and assist with developing prevention strategies against sexual assault.
  • REEF will define consent and assist youth in understanding the role consent plays in physically intimate settings.
  • REEF will lead youth to discover how media influences their actions and the effects on relationships and understand the responsibilities and dangers of internet, social media and cell phones.
  • REEF will instill how drugs and alcohol compromise youth’s ability to complete tasks by increasing awareness on the research associated with drug and alcohol use.
  • REEF will guide youth to discover how drug and alcohol use increases the vulnerability to sexual advances and the benefits of staying drug and alcohol free by clarifying myths and rumors regarding the effects of drug, alcohol and tobacco use; providing necessary facts and information to promote healthy lifestyle choices.
  • REEF will inform and warn youth about the harmful effects and dangers of pornography; encouraging them to be on their guard and be intentional about avoiding exposure to pornography for the sake of their health and the health of relationships.
Has the curriculum been evaluated?

REAL Essentials has been evaluated by an independent educational evaluator whose preliminary findings were:

  • Pre-post data demonstrates statistical significant positive movement on a 7 point Lickert Scale from pre to post-tests within 26 items which represent the following categories: Peer Self-Esteem, Communication, Conflict Resolution, Impulse Control, Attitudes about Relationships, Cohabitation, Marriage, Non-marital Childbearing, Poverty Prevention, Self-efficacy, Social Skills, Success Sequencing, Relationship Pacing, Consent, Kindness, Inclusivity, Primary Prevention, Risk Reduction, Knowledge, Behavioral Intentions and Present and Recent Behavior.
  • Based on pre-post preliminary results, the initial assessment is that REAL Essentials demonstrates immediate impact among participating youth as demonstrated by percentage increases and statistically significant favorable shifts ranging from 4.2% to 22.8% to increase knowledge, changed attitudes and intent away from early sexual debut. Present results are encouraging and reflect the goals of the program. REAL Essentials meets its objective to educate and support adolescent decisions to postpone sexual activity and develop healthy relationships.
  • Causal data cannot be determined; however, Colorado is number one state in the country regarding high school seniors reporting on a survey (modeled after the CDC YRBS surveillance system) that was administered to a representative sample of Colorado youth reporting they are not involved in sexual activity. When monitoring these survey results the numbers rose higher with each year commensurate with teachers and community leaders being trained and certified to teach the REAL Essentials curricula throughout the state. Currently the percentage of high school students in Colorado who reported not being sexually active is 76.7%. This is remarkable given the libertine messages adolescents receive from health departments who dispense long acting reversible contraceptives (LARC) at no cost to teens as well as laws legalizing marijuana use. This information can be found on page 10 of the 2016 Colorado Health Report Card

See more about the evaluation of REAL Essentials here.

Is REEF a faith-based program?

No.  REAL Essentials and the REEF program are both evidence-based.  All lessons are inclusive, evidence based and medically accurate.

Will this program make teens feel guilt or shame?

REEF is designed with the understanding that teens are coming into the program from a variety of backgrounds and experiences.  REEF will express that whatever has been done, with whomever, and whatever situation they may be in; that tomorrow is a new day.  Like coral reefs, REEF encourages healthy youth choices for a healthier community because it is never too late to start over and move forward in a positive and healthy direction.

How can I get more information?

Care Net Pregnancy Center of Southern Maryland’s Outreach and Education Director, Shelby Whitlock would be happy to further discuss the REEF Program with you.  You can email Shelby here or call her at Care Net SoMD’s Lexington Park Center: 301-737-4604.

Get in Touch.

Call us or complete the form below to learn more about getting involved with Care Net SoMD.


PO Box 31 Lexington Park, MD 20653

FAX: (301) 737-5497

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