ABCs have begun to play a more prominent role in the education, information dissemination and prevention efforts regarding alcohol use directed at grades K-12. The majority of these efforts are targeted at underage drinking, but some also include messages related to impaired driving and fetal alcohol syndrome/effect.
The average age of first alcohol use is 13.1 years and the average age of onset of drinking strongly predicts development of alcohol dependence over the course of a life span. About 40% of those who start drinking at age 14 years or under develop alcohol dependence at some point in their lives. (Information taken from Healthy People 2010, released by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Chapter 26.) Underage drinking contributes to health, safety and social problems affecting youth, including poor academic performance, school failure, assaults/rape, recreational injuries, violence, suicide, early and unprotected sex and car crashes and fatalities.
Most education and prevention is delivered through the classroom, providing a logical mechanism for ABCs to target materials and programs to supplement curriculum and other activities that are classroom based. However, these activities are not limited to the classroom as ABCs partner with non-school based youth groups and organizations to provide education and prevention services as well.
ABCs provide a unique focus because they typically are concerned only with alcohol, although in some states tobacco has been added to their responsibilities as well. With regard to alcohol, this sole focus is often welcomed by other organizations that are tasked with prevention of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs (ATOD) and sometimes find their own focus on alcohol diluted by having to address all substances.
Programs developed to prevent underage drinking should include the following:
For many years prevention strategies have targeted the individual by providing information, skills training and programs that encouraged positive personal development. This individual change is encouraged through avenues such as mentoring, peer education and counseling, school-based curricula, parenting classes, communication of rules and expectations through families, schools, the faith community and health care providers. Strategies targeting the individual seek to socialize, instruct, guide and counsel youth in ways that help them lead healthy drug-free life-styles. This type of prevention is still needed and still utilized.
For a number of years, prevention programs targeted the individual to reduce dangerous and underage drinking. Recently, in addition to seeking to change the individual, another approach is employed that reaches a greater number of youth. This approach seeks to change the environment in which the youth live. It can produce a larger impact and consists of a coordinated effort to change the societal and cultural norms. This approach is referred to as the environmental approach. It seeks to change public policies (laws, rules and regulations) and the social norm.
The environmental approach stresses the adoption of policies that limit access of alcohol to youth. These policies consist of price controls, density restrictions and minimum purchase age laws, impaired driving laws, restrictions on use, selling/serving controls and counter advertising.
At-risk students, high school and middle school students.
Provide students with information and resources to prevent underage drinking and its consequences.
Youth forums or conferences provide information, resources and strategies to youth to prevent underage drinking. Both environmental and individual prevention information and strategies could be used. These conferences could be designed to be local, regional or statewide. The planning process should include students, teachers and prevention professionals. Some conferences are held during school hours to facilitate the coordination of participants, activities and transportation.
Students K-3, general public.
An ABC can develop a character or mascot attractive to young children that travels to schools/events throughout the state. The program is designed to educate children about the dangers of alcohol use and the importance of making healthy choices. The program should include a speaker who shares information with the children about alcohol’s effect on the body. The children have a chance to interact with the mascot. Coloring books, pencils, bookmarks, trading cards, puppets and stickers reinforce the no-use message and are given to the students after the presentation. (See CD-ROM – Appendix I)
Note: Mascots must be chosen and designed carefully. Children may be fearful of mascots for several reasons. The size of the mascot can be intimidating to a small child. The child may be afraid of a character that represents a “scary” animal or insect. Children may have been taught to stay away from these creatures because of bites or stings. For these reasons, the L.C. Bee is careful to not approach any child who appears to be uncertain or frightened. A co-worker, affectionately referred to as the “beekeeper,” always accompanies L.C. Bee to ensure the safety of the person inside the costume and to assure children that the bee is very friendly.
(Contact Information, see Appendix A)
Teachers from K to 3rd grade level.
The lesson plan brings the “no use” message into the classroom. This guide provides direction to assist educators in teaching about alcohol and includes vocabulary lists, commonly asked questions, how to identify special skills and ways to help children of alcoholics (COAs). The lesson plan suggests follow-up activities such as discussions on the use of alcohol advertisements and a science experiment to explain the effect of alcohol. There are also lists of alcohol education resources for information and materials, COA intervention and treatment referrals and supplemental reading lists for children and adults. In addition to the booklet each teacher receives a wall size chart featuring a colorful sketch of a boy and girl that shows how alcohol affects different parts of the body. Also provided are seven different activity/worksheets for each student and a wallet membership card pledging to be alcohol-free. A video featuring the mascot talking to children about alcohol may also be available. (See CD-ROM – Appendix J)
Middle and high school students (Grades 7-12).
Educate students about the problems of underage drinking in their community.
Students write school newspaper stories (news, features and editorials) about how underage drinking affects their school and community. Articles are submitted to the ABC for judging by an independent panel. Top entries are reproduced for statewide distribution and can be featured on the agency web site or through other vehicles such as newsletters.
Encourage students to create messages in a poster format that will discourage their peers from drinking underage.
An ABC can sponsor an Alcohol Awareness Poster Contest among students grades K-12. The contest challenges students to create a poster about the facts and consequences of underage drinking. The winners should be honored in some fashion and posters are reproduced for dissemination to schools and at public events.
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