PIERZ - Underage drinking.
Children and young adults age 12 to 20 drink almost 20 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States and more than 90 percent of the alcohol is consumed by binge drinking, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Minnesota is no different. The center reports that in order to prevent underage drinking, community-based efforts are required to monitor youth activities and decrease youth access to alcohol.
The Pierz Area Coalition, established in July 2006, strives to create a community environment where youth feel supported and challenged to make it through high school without using alcohol. Brainerd Dispatch/Jennifer Stockinger » Purchase reprints of this photo.
This is just what the community of Pierz did by organizing the Pierz Area Coalition, which is a partnership with the Pierz School District, Morrison County Public Health and the community. The coalition started in July 2006 with a $300,000 grant from the state and today is going strong, with close to 350 members. More than 150 students of the nearly 550 Pierz Healy High School enrollment pledged to be drug- and alcohol-free for their high school career.
Zak Otremba, a Pierz junior and a coalition student leader, became involved in the coalition because he saw first hand how alcohol affects students.
"Every Monday I'd hear about some party that went on over the weekend and how it got busted," said Otremba. "This past school year, I've seen a difference and the talk about the parties has tapered off. Now there are students who say they used to get drunk every weekend and now they're not.
"Students are now playing video games or doing whatever and they don't feel pressured to drink."
Ann March, Morrison County Public Health educator and coalition coordinator, said the coalition strives to create a community environment where youth feel supported and challenged to make it through high school without using alcohol or drugs.
March said the coalition has been successful because many organizations, businesses, agencies and most important, parents and students, in the Pierz School District have been involved. March said the coalition has a parent network of about 80 parents.
Pierz Healy High School students Jesse Hillyer (left) and Zak Otremba recently walked down a school hallway between classes. The two students are Pierz Area Coalition student leaders, who have pledged to be chemical-free for their entire high school career. Brainerd Dispatch/Jennifer Stockinger » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Todd MacDonell, a parent and coalition member, said when the coalition first started he thought he was the only parent concerned about underage drinking, but now he realizes he's not alone. MacDonell said with the parent network, parents can communicate and find out what exactly is going on in their children's lives.
"I can call any of the parents in the network and find out what they're letting their kids do," said MacDonell. "Most of the time the parents aren't in favor of the later curfew and that allows me to tell my child that midnight is the curfew and is other students' curfews as well.
"No, I don't call parents every weekend to find out what's going on, but I can and it's a nice tool to have. All the parents in the network have a list of parents who pledged to keep teen-only gatherings to be chemical-free and if my child wants to go to hang out at a friend's house and their parents are on the list, it's good to know."
March said the coalition worked on eliminating a misconception that all students drink alcohol and do drugs.
"We've been trying to get the message out that there are more students who are chemical-free than those who are drinking," March said. "The students need to know this so they don't feel pressured to drink or do drugs."
If you go
Pierz Area Coalition meeting.
March 28 at the Old Bank Restaurant.
For more information call Ann March, coalition coordinator, at (320) 632-0349.
Sheila Funk, coalition chair, said the coalition plans activities at the high school to give students the opportunity to do something chemical-free, such as movie nights, open gym and outdoor activities.
The Pierz School District implemented drug education curriculum to sixth- through eighth-graders and 10th- and 12th-graders as part of the Pierz Area Coalition's efforts. Brainerd Dispatch/Jennifer Stockinger » Purchase reprints of this photo.
The coalition is starting a positive community norms campaign on a new approach to reduce underage drinking. March said prevention efforts are often focused on using scare tactics to get people to be chemical-free. March said scaring people into health isn't always effective. With the norms campaign, the coalition will talk about the positive, healthy chemical-free behaviors of students.
The coalition also is working on more ways to market the coalition's message. In a 2006 Community Readiness Survey given to adults in the school district, the survey found that 92 percent of the community members believe it's never OK for adults to offer alcohol to teens who aren't their own children; 84 percent favored law enforcement spending more time enforcing the minimum drinking age law; and 72 percent felt the community has a responsibility to set up prevention programs to help people avoid alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
As part of the coalition's efforts, the school district implemented drug education curriculum to students in sixth through eighth grades, 10th and 12th grades.
Early analysis of a 2007 survey about underage drinking indicates there was a decrease in underage drinking. MacDonell said he can't say the decrease is from the coalition's efforts, but he said the numbers are encouraging.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5851.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.