In an effort to reduce underage drinking, Oklahoma schools now have access to alcohol education through a new online program known as AlcoholEdu.
The program is offered by the Oklahoma Department of Education in partnership with the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
According to a press release from the Oklahoma Department of Education, AlcoholEdu is an free, innovative online alcohol education program designed for 7th to 12th grade students. The program is designed to educate students on the dangers of underage drinking, incorporating evidence-based prevention methods to create an engaging user experience, and provide students with personalized feedback based on their drinking experiences to help them establish individual goals for making smart decisions when it comes to drinking.
Joy Hermansen, Coordinator and Prevention Specialist for the Oklahoma State Department of Education, discussed just how prevalent underage drinking is in Oklahoma.
"Underage drinking is the number one problem in Oklahoma, it also ranks 7th in the nation," Hermansen said. "Children that drink underage are 5 to 6 times more likely to develop an alcohol problem later in their lifetime. Underage drinking prevention saves lives; it preserves public health, safety, and well being, and, in the long run, prevention efforts now save money later."
Hermansen said that is why prevention efforts such as AlcoholEdu are so important.
She said she thinks AlcoholEdu in particular is an effective tool because "it's very interactive and engaging."
"It's also very convenient for everyone," she said. "Teachers only have to monitor students. They don't have to take the time to implement the program, so their instructional time is not interrupted. I think the students really like it, it's a lot of fun."
According to the AlcoholEdu website outsidetheclassroom.com, the program offers interactive lessons in order to achieve specific behavior change objectives in students. AlcoholEdu offers an entertaining format which aims to engage students in a meaningful way through story narratives and activities that reflect the way modern students communicate, such as blogs, IM chats, and videos. The narratives and activities feature real life student success stories which encourage participants to adopt positive behaviors and build self-esteem.
The AlcoholEdu program can be completed in three 30-minute computer sessions. It includes a pre-test and final exam to evaluate how much alcohol-related knowledge the students gain during the course. It also includes anonymous surveys to help measure changes in students' attitudes and behaviors toward alcohol.
After the tests are graded and the survey data is compiled, teachers will be able to view the information through an administration website, Hermansen said. The program also works to provide information on students' alcohol use in order to help prevent underage alcohol consumption.
Hermansen said AlcoholEdu has undergone "rigorous" evaluations to show that it is effective.
"The AlcoholEdu program is on the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration national registry of evidence-based programs and practices. In order to be on that registry, you must go through a very rigorous scientific process to determine that your program is effective and that it produces positive outcomes," she said.
While it's too early to see any hard numbers showing a decrease in the prevalence of alcohol use in the 25 schools the AlcoholEdu program has been implemented, Hermansen says there still is some good news.
"The preliminary data does suggest an increase in knowledge about the dangers of underage drinking, so its great to see that knowledge has already increased. It shows some improvement on the outcomes of students refusing to ride in a car with a drunk driver," said Hermansen.
AlcoholEdu is currently in use at 25 Oklahoma schools and several additional schools are scheduled to implement the program in Spring. Woodward is not yet on the list of schools implementing AlcoholEdu, however the program has been adopted at other area schools including Fairview High School and Sharon-Mutual High School.
When asked what she thought of more schools implementing the program, Hermansen said, "The fact more schools are adopting the program is definitely a positive sign. I think once the information gets out to the schools, we'll be getting a lot of calls and a lot of interest, especially because its a free course and a lot of schools are struggling right now to do any type of prevention due to budgetary constraints."
Teachers and administrators interested are encouraged to demo the course and can do so by contacting Tyla Vercollone at 781-726-6677 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org for the demo login code.
"The most exciting thing about the program is its an opportunity that doesn't come about very often for the schools," said Hermansen. "It's a beautiful thing that we're able to offer such a wonderful opportunity free of charge."