It's one thing to hear what adults have to say about the use of alcohol by Homer teens. It's another thing to hear what the teens have to say. Following are comments from five Homer High School students involved with PHAT, Promoting Health Among Teens.
For Dylan Wylde, 17, it starts with shifting away from a negative focus.
"Find something else to talk about, something positive that teens have been doing," said Wylde.
He suggested schools find a "more engaging curriculum" to make learning fun. As an example, he noted a sunny day last year when "we had to beg the teacher to let us go outside." He also expressed the need for more activities.
"Kids just need something to do. Anything," said Wylde, suggesting ways for teens to be involved in the community.
What they don't need is someone telling them not to do something without more information.
"How do we know how to make it safe if we're just not supposed to do it," said Wylde.
What role do adults play?
"It depends on the adults and how set in their beliefs they are," said Wylde. "We can learn a lot from adults because they have a lot of experiences. It's just all about being personal with someone."
Wylde is currently working on a project encouraging the sharing of personal perspectives. Asked for his, he said, "Not everything is set in stone. Everyone's different. It could change for the better. That's the way I'd sum it up to apply it to everything."
When it comes to school policies regarding the use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, Zoe Story, 17, thinks the existing policies are good.
"I don't think you can have a safe environment if there aren't any rules about drugs or tobacco," said Story.
With regard to teens' use of alcohol, Story said, "They're teens and teens are going to experiment, but I think it happens a lot. A lot of kids don't really do anything on their weekends without alcohol."
It isn't for lack of other activities, however.
"I think it's just a crappy excuse to say there's nothing to do," said Story. "There are definitely ways for kids to get involved and have something to do other than partying on the weekends."
Her advice: Be involved in your community and your relationships, whether it is parents, family or friends.
Hailey Hughes, 16, also believes existing school policies serve a purpose.
"It's good to have a boundary," she said. "If that wasn't in place, things could get out of hand."
What did bother Hughes was the sense that "our school's under a magnifying glass" because of the attention the recent drinking parties have drawn.
"Anything wrong seems like a bigger deal than it is. Everyone's watching the school," said Hughes. "There's a lot of stress around this topic right now. It's time to stop putting so much pressure on it. I think people get the point and it doesn't need to be stressed so much. People have learned their lesson."
On the other hand, she added that there's "definitely a lot of drugs and pot use in our community, so I don't know. It's kind of hard to say if teenagers would want to address that."
Sierra Moskios, 15, thinks school district policies on the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs are there for "a good reason."
"They've done a good job keeping teens in line," she said. "I know teens that will not participate in anything against that policy because they care about themselves and I wouldn't want to put my sport in jeopardy because of that policy. It keeps kids out of trouble."
If there's a way to get a round a policy, however, kids will find it.
"I don't want to say the school is naïve, but they just don't know how sneaky or smart teens are to get around those policies," said Moskios. "It's a nice school policy protecting students, but there's only so far you can go."
When it comes to community involvement, Moskios was impressed by the turnout at a community meeting held at Homer High School in response to the Sept. 8 party.
"I felt like a lot of parents wanted the school to be even more strict and have more rules, but more rules are only going to make kids want to do the opposite," said Moskios. "You need to teach kids how to limit and handle themselves. You can't stop every teenager from drinking and doing drugs. You need to inform and educate them, let them know the consequences and effects of everything they do. … The community is doing a good job trying to jump on it and thinking of ideas, but I haven't seen any follow up yet. Just a lot of talk and no action."
Through her involvement in PHAT, Moskios suggested more time in classrooms, especially in elementary and middle schools, to give students facts and information about making good decisions.
"You can't get into high school and not have any idea what you stand for," said Moskios.
Trevor Waldorf, 18, said developing policies is "kind of a moving target. … New ones are already developing as the culture evolves. … You tackle what you can and ultimately hope you create a better society for it."
While he believes teen drinking isn't a topic to be ignored, he also sees the enormity of it and the pressures that come to bear. There's the legal system to take into consideration; the glamorous image created by movies, television, advertising and pricing; the message broadcast by hip hop music; what is being learned about the brain's development and how its impacted by alcohol; what is still unknown about alcohol's effects, both good and bad; and the social pressures to drink, as well as not drink.
Waldorf suggests change will happen "from looking at ourselves and what we do daily and occasionally, how we interact with alcohol. That's going to be what makes the most change, a slow shifting of the mindset over time. The beast that is public perception does not move fast. It takes of a lot of inertia to get it to move, but it does move."
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.