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"Be the Influence" Town Hall Meetings Chip Away at Underage Binge Drinking in Marin
Participant response to county-sponsored project overwhelmingly positive, sobering
MARIN COUNTY, Calif. - This week Marin County released results from the series of town hall meetings conducted in February and March as part of the "Be the Influence" project. The town hall meetings at Redwood, San Andreas, Sir Francis Drake, and Tamalpais High Schools join students, parents and community members in strategizing how to reduce underage and binge drinking in the Tamalpais Union High School District. The results compiled are a preliminary indicator of the positive way in which "Be the Influence" is beginning to re-shape both student and parent perceptions about alcohol use.
"Be the Influence" is a county-sponsored project targeting students in the Tamalpais Union High School District that are currently binge drinking, or are at risk of doing so. The key component of "Be the Influence" is a "self-assessment," an online survey designed to identify any student that may need to reduce their drinking. Approximately 1,100 students in the District have completed the self-assessment which provides students with a personalized score based on questions they answer about their use of alcohol. The objective of the self-assessment is to provide students with immediate and realistic feedback about the risk that their binge-drinking puts them at and to encourage them to speak with an alcohol and drug counselor in their school to make a plan to begin to reduce their drinking.
Speakers at the town hall meetings featured high school students in the District, as well as county officials and health experts. Mary Jane Boyd, Trauma Director at Marin General Hospital, spoke candidly of her interaction with the approximately 3,100 10- to 18-year-olds admitted annually, 1,000 of which are for alcohol-related incidents. Gary Najarian, the Prevention Coordinator from the Marin County Division of Alcohol, Drug and Tobacco, discussed the startling impact of alcohol on the young brain.
Using a 5-point scale to rate the value of the town hall, with 5 being "important use of my time" and 1 being "waste of my time," 54 out of the 82 people that completed an evaluation form (65.9%) rated it a 5 (important use of my time). The average rating among all attendees was 4.5. The educational impact of the town halls is also striking: following the meeting, 73 of the 81 respondents that answered the question (90.1%) knew that five drinks in a two-hour sitting constituted binge drinking. In addition, more than three-quarters (79%) of all those that attended reported increased knowledge of resources available on campus to teenagers having a problem with alcohol.
"It is important for parents to not only understand the real definition of binge drinking, but also their child's relationship to it and its devastating and potentially life-long impact on them," said Dr. Larry Meredith. "The town hall meetings are excellent for this purpose: not only do they offer information about binge drinking, the youth perspective allows parents to see how real and pervasive this problem is in Marin County and induces parents to take action at home."
Over the next five years, TUHSD will actively develop opportunities to involve parents in the project. By employing a unique, multi-disciplinary approach to the issue of binge drinking, "Be the Influence" will draw on the expertise and connections of parents to help reduce the high binge drinking rates in the District. "I'm very happy that we had the opportunity to address this problem with so many parents in the District," said Spencer Shubert, a member of "Be the Influence" and senior at Redwood High School. "It's encouraging to see that there are parents who understand the importance of this issue and are willing to support our work on this project."
"Be the Influence" is a partnership between Bay Area Community Resources, Marin County Health and Human Services, Tamalpais Union High School District, and the Youth Leadership Institute. To find out more about the project, contact Gary Najarian at (415) 499-4230.