Catholic Diocese Creates Online Learning Community to Address Abuse

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The Diocese of Winona (http://www.dow.org) in partnership with Professional Learning Board (http://www.professionallearningboard.com) launched an interactive online learning community teaching members of the Catholic diocese about recognizing and reporting child abuse.

The Diocese of Winona (http://www.dow.org) in partnership with Professional Learning Board (http://www.professionallearningboard.com) launched an interactive online learning community teaching members of the Catholic diocese about recognizing and reporting child abuse.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in its Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People mandates that every U.S. Catholic diocese provide "A 'safe environment' program (that) requires training of parents, ministers, educators, church personnel, volunteers and others regularly involved with minors as to the issue of abuse of children, to include sexual abuse."

PJ Thompson, Chancellor of the Diocese of Winona, led the effort to create the online safe environment education program. "We are committed through our faith and the USCCB Charter to protect all God's children. An online learning community is the best way we have found to reach virtually all of the people in our diocese that work with children in a religious, education or volunteer capacity."

The diocese tried reaching its rural audience of over 10,000 through traditional classroom seminars. Thompson added, "It was difficult to fulfill our mission to God and His children. Classroom seminars were inconvenient for our parishioners and comparatively (to online training) very expensive. We needed a better way."

The online learning program created by the Diocese of Winona permits all people required to complete training the ability to do so at a time and in a place they select. The online courses accommodate learning needs of all members of the faith community while meeting the mandated training topics of USCCB.

The online safe environment learning community includes the first three courses in the Safe & SacredTM Series:
1.    Protecting All God's Children
2.    Essential Commitment: Code of Conduct
3.    Essential Commitment: Regarding Misconduct

Diocesan participants engage in the courses via any Internet-connected computer. The courses are designed to work for people using either dial-up or high-speed Internet access.

Another key advantage offered is an online learning community in which participants can meet online, share ideas and collaborate to create safe environments for children. Now members from across the geographically diverse Southern Minnesota diocese, over six hours by car from end-to-end, can connect regardless of location, anytime from anywhere.

According to the Most Rev. Bernard J. Harrington, Bishop of Winona, the Safe & Sacred SeriesTM by the Diocese of Winona provides information, encourages interactivity, measures understanding and documents results. "It is so important that our churches, schools, homes and individual communities are safe for all God's people - especially our children," Bishop Harrington said.

The online learning community enables the Diocese of Winona to track the learning and compliance of its participants to ensure that the diocese is fulfilling its commitment to children and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As part of the USCCB mandate, all Catholic dioceses are audited bi-annually. Through its new online, safe environment program, the Diocese of Winona will have ready access to reporting that meets the USCCB requirements.

The Diocese of Winona partnered with Professional Learning Board, a leader in developing online learning communities. Ellen Paxton, founder of Professional Learning Board, commented, "During development of the diocese's online courses and community, we learned that the topic of child abuse impacts all faith communities and socio-economic groups. We are proud to work with the Diocese of Winona on this important project."

According to Thompson, "Partnering with Professional Learning Board enabled us to create a sound learning-based, online program superior to other solutions we researched." Word of the Diocese of Winona's online safe environment program has already garnered interest from other dioceses seeking to use Winona's program. In response, Professional Learning Board is managing licensing of the Diocese's program to other dioceses and organizations.

About Diocese of Winona
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Winona serves approximately 131,000 Catholics in the 20 southernmost counties of Minnesota. There are 115 Catholic parishes and religious education programs, along with 31 Catholic schools, under the diocese's direction.

About Professional Learning Boardâ„¢
Professional Learning Board is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Founded by Ellen Paxton, MEd, NBCT, the company provides online continuing education courses, resources, software and custom development services to PK-20 public and private schools, teachers and non-profit organizations.

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