May 23, 2018
Fort Couch partners with township police
for alcohol awareness
Each year Fort Couch Middle School partners with the Upper St. Clair Township Police to deliver a series of three lessons to all eighth graders about the laws surrounding alcohol and drugs – specifically focusing on the dangers of underage drinking.
A team of five township police officers taught the lessons including Cpl. Michael Lebetz, Lt. Jon Wharton, Sgt. Michael Lindenfelser, Sgt. Michael Ventura and Officer Michael Cafaro.
“These types of programs are important because we live in an age of constant advertisement and social media. Kids see drugs and alcohol glamorized in movies and music. It’s important they see what kind of damage can be done if they decide to abuse drugs and alcohol,” Cpl. Lebetz said. “It is especially important at this age because these kids are about to enter high school. They are going to be faced with situations in the coming years and they need to know the health risks and also the potential legal trouble they could get themselves into.”
Lauren Madia, Fort Couch Middle School counselor and student support services curriculum leader, sees this as an effective opportunity to encourage responsible decision-making.
“Research indicates that the earlier in life a person begins to use substances, the more likely he/she is to develop a substance abuse problem. We hope by educating middle school students in this manner, it will at the very least delay their first use, if not avoid it all together,” Mrs. Madia said. “The officers preach the importance of ‘keeping their mistakes small,’ knowing that we all make mistakes sometimes, but we can avoid ‘big mistakes’ that can cause a lot of other problems.”
The officers recognize the influence that peer pressure can play on adolescents and their decision-making and encourage students to choose their friends wisely.
“We stressed that to be positive and successful they need to surround themselves with positive, driven individuals,” Cpl. Lebetz added. “We often absorb the habits that our friends take on, so if we surround ourselves with people who have unhealthy, dangerous, illegal habits we may take on those dangerous habits as well.”
The series of lessons focus on state and federal laws regarding alcohol and other drugs; trends including a discussion on medicinal versus recreational marijuana; and a final lesson that gives an overview of a field sobriety test.
“As sixth and seventh graders, our students learn quite a bit about health effects,” Mrs. Madia said. “In eighth grade, we focus on the penal code and study the laws pertaining to young people, and all people, who use alcohol and other drugs.”
Partnering with the Upper St. Clair Township Police Department to have police officers lead the lessons has been particularly effective.
“The officers bring unique knowledge, training and first-hand experience to explain the legal component of alcohol and drugs, versus just the health component,” Mrs. Madia said. “They have really seen it all in their work and can explain how what people may think will ‘trick’ an officer is not likely to be successful.”
As part of the discussion of probable cause and field sobriety tests students have the opportunity to experience intoxication simulation goggles that illustrate the level of impairment. This is always a highlight of the program and something students look forward to experiencing.
“Even as seventh graders, they see the ‘blue lines’ on the floor for the field sobriety test simulation, and they ask excitedly about when their turn is to participate,” Mrs. Madia said. “Even though the simulation is a fun activity, our students realize how alcohol and drugs can interfere with their motor skills and, especially, their ability to drive a car.”
Based on the high level of engagement during the series of lessons, the officers have received a positive response from students.
“We encourage participation throughout each lesson and the students frequently ask relevant questions to each topic. This provides us with immediate feedback that the students are interested in learning more about the topic of the lesson,” Cpl. Lebetz said. “We have shared stories of situations we have seen in the field and this helped the students realize that these things can happen. It’s one thing for the students to hear of the risks, but it’s another thing for students to hear a real world story where these risks came in to play, and were witnessed by the officers that were teaching the lessons.”