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Student Leaders Attend Conference to Help Curb Teen Booze Use

Selection of beer and wine (file photo)This article was written by Audrey Batcheller

Alcohol use among Arlington teens is down, and a recent trip for a group of high school students was organized to help continue that trend.

Data from the Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth, and Families shows that the percentage of Arlington high school students that reported recently drinking alcohol decreased by eight percent from 2004 to 2010. In an effort to keep that number declining, Arlington’s READY Coalition sponsored a trip for Arlington students and their School Resource Officers — Arlington County police officers assigned to schools — to attend the 29th Annual Youth Alcohol & Drug Abuse Prevention Project (YADAPP) conference last week.

Ten students were selected by their SRO, and two additional students were chosen by the READY Coalition, which paid the registration fee to send the group to Longwood University, in Farmville, Va., for the week.

“Each high school resource officer picked the people they thought would be good leaders in trying to get their peers to get on board with an anti-drinking and anti-drug club and to help spread the message,” said Corporal Jim Tuomey, who accompanied the students to the conference.

APS students have attended this conference before, but last week was their first appearance in over ten years.

“We decided to take a group of teens to the conference for the purpose of trying to find better ways to outreach to the high school community,” said Phillip Leverett, the Youth Outreach Coordinator for the READY Coalition.

The 2013 results of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey are still pending, but the 2011 YRBS shows that two thirds of Arlington teens do not consume alcohol on any given weekend, a surprising number considering that a decade ago teen drinking appeared to be on the rise.

Hundreds of students attend the YADAPP conference — which is presented by the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control — every year to listen to speakers and participate in workshops. Students work in teams of four and create a Strategies To Act Now (STAN) prevention plan specific to their community that they will implement upon their arrival home.

Kateri Gajadhar, a student at the conference and chair of the Teen Network Board’s Drug and Alcohol Committee, is laying the ground work for an “Above the Influence” club at Washington-Lee.

“It helped me see ideas that have worked and things that didn’t work,” said Gajadhar about YADAPP. “It was good to interact with people who are doing the same things in different places to see what we can do here to effectively expand to older age groups.”

The other teams also chose to start clubs at their schools as part of their STAN plans.

“Most teams picked homecoming week to launch their club as it’s a really popular week in the schools,” said Tuomey. “They hope to get sports teams on board and use back-to-school events to try to get more members.”

The students and chaperones alike gained valuable information from their week at Longwood.

“The conference was even educational for us, the people who deal with this all the time,” Tuomey said. Leverett said he hopes these clubs and new initiatives will help the READY Coalition be even more effective in spreading their message.

“Instead of saying ‘just say no,’ we’re more into showing students that there is an alternative,” he said.

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