I will never forget the day we took our daughter to her first Penn State football game. She was 5 and we were anxious to see her reaction to the splendor of it all — the Blue Band, the drum major's traditional flip and the crowd performing the wave.
Arriving in plenty of time to find our seats and witness kickoff, we passed the time my playing “I Spy.” My husband and I laughed when she exclaimed, “I see something blue!”
A young college student stumbled into a seat behind us. He was obviously intoxicated. We did our best to ignore his slurred and rambling chants, but just as the band took the field, he vomited all over us. He was physically removed by security. Needless to say my daughter has not asked to go since, and that was nearly six years ago.
Drinking alcohol is deeply ingrained in the campus-community culture here in Happy Valley. From an early age, youth growing up in the region are exposed to norms condoning and often encourage dangerous drinking. This is evident by the widespread association of alcohol and university athletic events, like the strong tradition of tailgating during home football games.
The drinking problem is further exacerbated by the fact that more than half of State College Area High School graduates attend Penn State.
High school juniors and seniors maintain close friendships with college freshmen, developing new relationships with older college students, attending social and athletic events, and consequently, become part of a larger social network of underage and of-age drinkers where alcohol is readily available.
A broad collaboration called Parents Are the Solution (PATS) has formed to enlist and empower parents to effectively intervene in the underage drinking scene.
Formed in December 2008 as a task force of the Care Partnership — Centre Region Communities That Care and with the support of the State College Area School District, Penn State Biobehavioral Health & Prevention Research Center, State College Police Department and others, PATS developed a plan to begin a systematic examination at the level of the parents about their perceptions of the teen drinking problem, motives, solutions and action.
Supporting this theory, the 2007 Pennsylvania Youth Survey data from the SCASD reports students in eighth, 10th and 12th grades have a substantially higher average level of lifetime alcohol use than youth nationally. The combination of these factors suggests the need for a comprehensive approach addressing underage and dangerous drinking at the environmental level.
Now is the time for us to reach out to parents through our PATS Project, while there is a readiness to talk and to take action.
From our community, we have secured $7,500 from the Knight Foundation, the Campus and Community Compact Against Dangerous Drinking and the Calvary Baptist Church and raised funds through grants and private sources. The PATS project will enable us to capitalize on the momentum in our community with a group we know will make a difference — our parents.
For more information about the PATS Committee, or to find out how you can support the efforts of the committee please contact Jeanne Knouse at firstname.lastname@example.org or Lou Ann Evans at email@example.com
Jeanne M. Knouse is director of student services, Learning Enrichment and Gifted Support, State College Area School District.