2008-06-26 / News

Middle school students toughen up alcohol policy

By Michaela Kennedy

Maia White, Jessica Rudman and Nicole Perez display the backboard they used to present their alcohol policy research to the School Committee. The girls recommended stiffer penalties and more specific language to a vague policy. Photo by Michaela Kennedy Maia White, Jessica Rudman and Nicole Perez display the backboard they used to present their alcohol policy research to the School Committee. The girls recommended stiffer penalties and more specific language to a vague policy. Photo by Michaela Kennedy Students often groan when given an extended assignment to complete. Yet this year, three eighth grade girls not only reported their research, but used the newly-gained knowledge to strengthen Jamestown Schools' alcohol and substance abuse policy.

Maia White presented an updated alcohol policy proposal to the School Committee at its June 18 business meeting. White explained how she, together with partners Nicole Perez and Jessica Rudman, discovered the outdated code and decided to analyze it for their health class project. They soon discovered the policy, last updated in the 1990s, was in serious need of an overhaul. "One hundred percent of the students surveyed agreed it was too vague," White said.

Earlier in the school semester, the eighth grade health class was directed to choose a topic relating to alcohol or drug abuse. After considering suggestions from their teacher, they brainstormed an idea to reform Jamestown Schools' alcohol code. "We were actually quite excited about it," Perez said in an interview later. "We like making a difference."

The students found a copy of the alcohol policy and read it aloud to each other. They decided the policy raised more questions than solutions. The girls surveyed fellow students, staff and parents to find ou t ho w ma ny pe ople we re aware of the policy and what their opinions were about the code. "The survey showed not a lot of people knew about the policy," Rudman said. "When we read it to them, they agreed it was not effective."

Some adults asked the girls why a policy was important since substance abuse was illegal and laws were in place already. The girls responded that kids were too young to be punished seriously in the legal system. "Kids get scared if they know what the consequences will be if they do something," Perez explained. "The policy helps them."

The proposal included ramifi cations su ch as su spension fo r a week, banishment from sports teams, and mandatory Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to be attended with parents. Children worry about what others think, according to the girls. "All the kids on the sports teams will get upset if someone gets kicked off," Rudman said.

When asked if they got help from adults in coming up with the revisions, the three students shook their heads. "We thought about what is fair," White said, and used suspension as an example. "One day of suspension is just a day off. But kids will get bored and realize the work they miss after a week."

The three students not only received top grades for their group project, but seized the opportunity to implement their ideas at the administrative level. Their approach to the school board elevated a class project to practical use. "We never thought it would go this far," they said.

At the end of the presentation before the school board, school committee member William "Bucky" Brennan asked the other panel members if there was a substance abuse policy for teachers, saying, "It's something we ought to think about."

School committee member Cathy Kaiser praised the students' review of the alcohol policy and agreed with their dismissal of the 1990s language as "too vague." She said the committee would put the policy on their "must do" list. "While we will look to the administration to guide us in that discussion, I expect the eighth graders' suggestions to serve as a valuable springboard for the policy revision," she added.

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