BERLIN — A collaborative effort between the Arthur W. Perdue Foundation, Atlantic General Hospital (AGH), Worcester County Public Schools (WCPS) and the University of Maryland College Park School of Public Health (UMCP) will seek to develop new standards for health literacy in youth.

The goal is to develop a pilot program this year that can be incorporated into the WCPS curriculum in the 2014-2015 academic year.

There’s a big need for some kind of standards, according to Dawn Denton, community education manager for AGH.

“This year they’ll be coming up with curriculum standards, with none existing in the entire United States,” she said.

The partnership between AGH and UMCP isn’t the only factor that came together to get the ball rolling on crafting standards. The Arthur W. Perdue Foundation is also playing a big part by providing $40,000 worth of funding towards the project, which was presented to AGH Tuesday.

“At Perdue, we salute the commitment of these health care and education partners in their efforts to enhance the health and quality of life for children in Worcester County,” said Bill Hetherington, executive director of the foundation. “This curriculum will engage children in their formative years and provide valuable lessons for creating a foundation for healthy living. We’re proud to invest in their future through this funding from the foundation.”

That donation will be money well spent, promised AGH leadership. Once new standards are developed and implemented, children in grades K-12 will finally have a comprehensive program available to teach them the basic building blocks of good health, said Laura Deeley Bren, chair of the AGH Foundation.

“The hospital is incredibly grateful to the Perdue Foundation for supporting this exciting project. We have the opportunity to instill basic understanding and appreciation for health and wellness – and what medical care can and cannot do for you – in people at a very early age,” she said. “We will be providing them an invaluable foundation for future health.”

AGH CEO Michael Franklin said that health literacy is an often overlooked but incredibly important tool in combating the most common preventable health problems.

“Improving the health literacy of the next generation is critical to the adoption of healthier lifestyles and proper utilization of healthcare services,” he said. “Individuals have to understand basic health principles before they can become active and effective partners in their own care. We’re very pleased with the plan that has been put in place for the Worcester County Public Schools.”

What health literacy means for each grade will be different, added Franklin. For younger students, it could be as simple as promoting good hygiene. In other grades, it could mean everything from learning how to read medicine and food labels critically to basic nutrition.

“It goes beyond just eat the right foods and really gets into what that all means,” Franklin said.

The underlying thread for all grades will be a structured set of standards that are not in place anywhere in the country today. Once developed, the standards created by the Herschel S. Horowitz Center for Health Literacy at UMCP are expected to be adopted by other Maryland public schools. AGH hopes that the final product will be easy to integrate into every grade level and will allow teachers in subjects like math, reading and social studies to offer practical health education directly through some of their lessons.