DANVILLE -- The audience was surprised when results of a student alcohol-use survey were revealed during a recent Youth and Alcohol town hall meeting at Monte Vista High School.
Seventy-eight percent of the school's students reported that they don't drink alcohol, according to the MVHS Friday Night Live research. Friday Night Live is a statewide youth leadership development organization with chapters funded and located in each county.
Locally, it is coordinated by the nonprofit Center for Human Development in collaboration with the San Ramon Valley Alcohol Policy Working Group through Discovery Counseling Center in Danville. The good news made the town hall participants wonder what they have been doing right and eager to look for ways to increase that number, especially because of the alcohol/drug connection.
"Alcohol doesn't stand alone," remarked Thania Balcorta, the Center for Human Development's program director. "When they use alcohol, they often do it with other drugs." Tragic results of teenage drunken driving have not disappeared, nor has the "cool factor" peer pressure, but a teen trend toward independent decision-making may be taking hold.
"I think we are more self-aware," Monte Vista student Lucy Holmes-Higgin said. "Some kids are thinking, 'I don't have to do that to fit in.' "
Signs on some school walls display the words "Pride," "Integrity," "Empathy," "Responsibility" and "Respect." They may be part of the reason why the statewide rate of underage drinking has also declined over the past 10 years, according to data from the California Healthy Kids Survey presented at the meeting.
Keynote speaker Candace Andersen, Contra Costa County's District II supervisor, encouraged student efforts to reduce teen alcohol use, telling parents, students and community leaders, "I decided not to drink alcohol in high school and somehow I still had a very happy and successful time in high school."
That is just the kind of information Friday Night Live student members want to share with other teens and parents. April Rovero, the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse's president, was among those in student-facilitated breakout discussion groups. Group leaders focused on activities and actions that will persuade today's teens to make the same choice.
The Friday Night Live approach is to create environmental prevention strategies, provide parent and student education, limit alcohol accessibility, modify community norms and change laws and policies if necessary. Jonathon Uriarte, the district representative for California State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier identified himself as an FNL chapter president in high school and said DeSaulnier is ready to support FNL and the community in any of those ways.
Danville Mayor Newell Arnerich mentioned City Council approval of a $1,000 fine for people responsible for a social event at which alcohol is served to underage drinkers. Parents and teens at the meeting suggested that the should be increased. In their opinion, affluent parents are not deterred by a $1,000 bill.
Another legal deterrent is Target Responsibility for Alcohol Connected Emergencies (TRACE), the law enforcement-designed program that immediately informs the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) in the event of a death or serious injury involving underage drinking.
"They will find out who furnished the alcohol and made that environment possible, whether it is a business or a private homeowner" Balcorta commented. "We baby-proof (our homes). Now it is time to teen-proof. ... We're working on limiting single-sales 24-ounce high-alcohol drinks and making sure merchants know how to check IDs."
Discussion group leaders Sarah Runfelt, Lucy Holm-Higgin and Andrea Tom, along with FNL members Alexis Wilkman and Mariah Soldana were awarded Certificates of Recognition by Supervisor Andersen and by Mayor Arnerich for their work on the issue of teens and alcohol. Attendees left with several action items including an FNL note to be sent to the Danville Police Department and City Council requesting support for their mission.