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Students head up underage drinking ban

Youth Alcohol Prevention Coordinator Bill Dent and support staff Kristine Partlow will be working to curb alcohol use among teens in Hubbard County. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

Youth alcohol consumption in Hubbard County is coming to the forefront, with students leading the charge to bring it to a halt.

The county has received a five-year $1 million grant through the Minnesota Department of Human Services to address alcohol consumption by youth.

Students from Laporte, Nevis and Park Rapids have undergone training to "go home and influence their peers," youth alcohol prevention coordinator Bill Dent told the Nevis School Board this week.

The kids, he said, are in the process of creating an identity. "I Decide" will likely soon be seen on T-shirts and banners, implying students accepting responsibility for their individual actions.

According to a state survey, the percentage of students in Hubbard County admitting to using alcohol is "quite large," Dent said. On average, 12 percent of all motor vehicle crashes in Hubbard County were alcohol related, more than twice the state average.

From 1998 to 2011, the percent of students reporting binge drinking (having five or more drinks in a row) averaged 21 percent among Hubbard County 9th graders and 35 percent among 12th graders, according to a state epidemiological study.

To counter this, an awareness campaign is being launched.

"It's not just preaching," Dent emphasized. The students are leading the campaign, heading to training with other students from across the state.

Twenty-plus Hubbard County students attended a Youth Leadership Academy. Another 40 headed to a Pelican Rapids SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) confab. And another 25 headed to Thief River for a seminar addressing alcohol consumption by teens.

This will be student driven, Dent said. "At this point, we don't know where the wagon is going. But in a short time, we'll have a map."

Curriculum will be developed through Project Northland, with all three schools on board. The program will address students in grades 6 through senior high. Studies now show 12-year-olds to be experimenting with alcohol.

"What used to happen at 17 or 18 is happening at 12," Dent said, noting the brain is not fully developed until the early- to mid-20s. "The goal of the grant is to make alcohol not as accessible."

This includes educating adults on the consequences of serving as a social host.

"The issue is not going away. It's here. We have to reduce the numbers. We want kids to be safe," he stressed

The project will ask tough, introspective questions. Why are you drinking? Where are you obtaining alcohol and what do you consider inappropriate?

Teachers will undergo training in March, Dent said.

Meanwhile, the Hubbard County Prevention Coalition, which morphed from the Drug and Alcohol Task Force, will be addressing changes to what's now considered "social norms," Dent said.

The 30-member team - representing business, law enforcement, school, judicial, youth and parent sectors - will be asked to review issues - curfews and liquor store license suspension parameters, for example.

Coalition funds could be used to add officers and training, Dent said.

Within the next few weeks, the coalition will begin interviewing community members on alcohol consumption in the under 21age group.

"Many people believe (under age drinking) is a private matter, that people have the right to allow kids to drink at home. But it never stays behind closed doors," Dent told the Nevis School Board this week. "The big push is to get awareness out there.

"The issue is with the kids. The solution is with the kids. We have a lot of good kids. If we educate them, give them the facts, most of the time they will make the right decision," Dent said.