Source: Associated Press
January 4, 2009

OLIVIA, Minn. – Most teenage students at Renville County West say it’s wrong to get drunk. But they’re not necessarily sure about what their friends think.

A pilot project in 12 Minnesota school districts – including Renville County West and Yellow Medicine East – is hoping to narrow the gap between perception and reality. The goal is to ultimately reduce underage alcohol use and access to alcohol.

The campaign, called Most of Us, was developed at Montana State University. It’s based on research that shows the majority of young people don’t abuse alcohol but inaccurately think many of their peers do.

“Most kids overestimate the extent to which their peers are using alcohol. Once they know the facts that their peers aren’t all using alcohol they cut their alcohol use because they want to be like the biggest share of the crowd,” said Carol Falkowski, director of the chemical health division at the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

“This is a whole different type of prevention,” said Annie Tepfer, coordinator of the Renville Alliance for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drugs.

“We are not going down that road of blaming who is at fault. What we really want to do is celebrate good healthy behaviors and point that out as a role model,” she said.

The Most of Us strategy has had some success in Montana, Missouri and Wyoming, and in Europe and Canada. In Minnesota, it’s being funded by the Department of Human Services chemical health division. There are plans to expand it beyond the 12 pilot school districts in upcoming years.

The first phase included a student survey about drinking-related behavior and perceptions. Now participating school districts are putting the data to use.

For example, the week before homecoming this fall, postcards arrived in the mailboxes of Renville County West parents containing the message: “78 percent of RCW students believe that their parents should communicate the importance of not using alcohol and drugs to them.”

A student group at Renville County West has been formed to plan activities, and students have hosted town hall meetings to share the survey findings. They’re helping to select posters and tape radio ads for a media campaign.

Periodic surveys will then help gauge whether there’s any measurable change in student attitudes and behaviors.