Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Feb. 12, 2001

Sixth graders subjects of study for alcohol awareness, attitudes

By Lynda Jensen

If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, then Howard Lake Waverly-Winsted school district is betting on a research-based study funded by the Department of Children, Families and Learning.

The study, called "Project Northland," is meant to curtail the access and use of alcohol consumption by minors. It is funded by a grant from CFL through Wright County Public Health.

There are 86 HLWW students involved in the study - the entire sixth grade class at Humphrey Elementary - which is in its second year, said Shirley Olson, coordinator at HLWW.

The project involves a long-term study of the students, and has been proven to reduce regular alcohol consumption by as much as 30 percent in other parts of the state, said grant coordinator Cathy Cerra.

When the study was applied to 2,400 students on the Iron Range from 1991-1994, it recorded:

· weekly drinking was 30 percent lower,

· use of both alcohol and nicotine were 27 percent lower,

· cigarette smoking was 37 percent lower and marijuana use was 50 percent lower among student who never drank before sixth grade.

Currently, the study is being used nationwide by both school districts and communities, with several nearby towns using it, including Rockford, Delano, and Monticello, and the school district and community of Maple Lake, Cerra said.

This project is the only research-based study about alcohol use in the nation, the only one to be scientifically measured and to have its effectiveness documented, Cerra said.

It was originally conceived of by the University of Minnesota, Cerra said.

The sixth graders will be studied again next year as seventh graders, and again as eighth graders, as part of the ongoing study process, Cerra said.

There are four components of the project, involving student surveys, parent surveys, community leaders survey, and merchant surveys.

The idea is to figure out how students are obtaining alcohol, how they feel about alcohol use, get parents involved in the situation, gauge community indicators about alcohol availability and find out why students might drink, Cerra said.

The project is incorporated into the HLWW health curriculum, which involves a number of components, such as peer-led groups for the seventh grade segment, Cerra said.

Comic books were used in the program for the sixth graders this year, with "Slick Tracy" and "Breathtest Mahoney" trying to show students that alcohol is a bad idea, Cerra said.

Parents are also part of the equation, as the school shares the curriculum by asking parents to sign off every week on safety awareness, Cerra.

There will be a project and poster fair the week of March 12 to celebrate the idea of being alcohol free, Cerra said.

The curriculum is continued from last year, when the students (as fifth graders) were introduced to the program.

Fifth graders may seem young, but "studies have shown that you need to start younger," Cerra said.

Students' attitudes are so important when it comes to using alcohol, Cerra said.

Attitudes are also linked to availability when it comes to liquor consumption by minors, she said.

As part of the project, on and off-sale merchants are asked questions about alcohol compliance and given an option of training, Cerra said.

There are compliance checks, in cooperation with local law enforcement agencies, to see if the merchants are honoring their commitment to compliance, Cerra said.

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