Campaign: Most Students Aren't Drinking
By Jill Hoffman,
Roanoke Times & World News
A new marketing
campaign is debunking misconceptions about high schoolers' alcohol use.
New River Valley Community
Services is using advertisements, billboards and posters to get the
message out that Blacksburg High School students drink less than their
The campaign, which uses
social norm theory or the idea that behavior is influenced by peer perceptions,
is based on a 2002 survey at Blacksburg High School.
Advertisements tout that
seven out of 10 students surveyed did not drink when they had the most
fun with their friends.
"The great news is the
majority ofstudents have said they they don't need alcohol to have a
good time," Superintendent Fred Morton said. "It doesn't mean
we don't have an issue to work on."
Several school board members
did not remember seeing the results of the survey, and Morton said the
board didn't get a copy because "this was something that was done
with the PTA."
Campaigns to correct misconceptions
about alcohol use are generally used at the college level. But Steven
Clarke, who has served as director of Virginia Tech's College Alcohol
Abuse Prevention Center, approached Kathy Kenley, prevention specialist
at New River Valley Community Services, about trying out the technique
at high school.
They applied for a federal
grant in early 2002 and got word that summer that they had received
the two-year grant for $39,000. The money was administered through the
Virginia Department of Alcohol Beverage Control.
Clarke developed an anonymous
survey and administered it in October 2002, with the cooperation of
the Montgomery County Public Schools central office and Blacksburg High
School Principal Alfred Smith.
Clarke has not returned phone
calls about the survey.
Ninth- and 10th-grade teachers
gave the survey during health and physical education classes, and 11th-
and 12th-grade teachers gave it during English classes. A representative
sampling of 429 students - or nearly half of the school's student population
- filled out the survey.
- 41 percent of students
thought their peers had drunk in the week leading up to the survey,
but 21 percent actually had drunk;
- 52 percent of students
thought their peers had drunk in the month leading up to the survey,
but 40 percent actually had drunk;
- 68 percent of students
thought their peers had drunk in the year leading up to the survey,
but 53 percent actually had.
"They think everybody's
drinking, and they're not," Kenley said.
The goal of the campaign
is to make people's perceptions mirror reality, Kenley said, because
"if you bring the perception down, the use goes down because kids
want to do what all their friends are doing."
To create a marketing campaign,
Kenley used student focus groups last fall to choose a message. Representatives
from the school's Students Against Destructive Decisions group hung
posters and distributed candy as incentives for feedback.
Laura Johnson, a Blacksburg
High School senior and member of SADD, said the campaign lets students
know that "not everyone's drinking, not everyone has to drink."
Kenley also sent informational
literature about the campaign to students' families and faculty members.
At least one teacher worried
the advertisements would give Blacksburg High Schoolers a bad reputation.
So Kenley held a faculty training session to explain the project.
Others questioned how Kenley
would know if students had told the truth, and she explained there is
a margin of error with every survey.
"It is a new approach,
and, initially, people don't understand and they are protective and
defensive," Kenley said.
As part of the campaign,
Kenley put up billboards on Blacksburg's North Main Street in the fall
and spring. The campaign ran advertisements at New River Valley Mall's
Regal Cinema for 13 weeks in 11 theaters. Posters displaying the message
have decorated the school, and Kenley gave out free T-shirts, turtlenecks,
hooded sweatshirts, pens, pencils, key chains and magnets with the message.
Students will be resurveyed
next month to see if their views of peer alcohol use have changed and
whether they have seen or heard anything about the campaign. It may
be too soon to see a drop in use, Kenley said.
Successful initiatives usually
last three to five years, Kenley said, but it's uncertain whether more
federal money will be available to continue the Blacksburg High School
project. She would like to expand the project to other New River Valley
"The more you
can get your message out there, the greater the impact," Kenley
said.Laura Johnson, a Blacksburg High School senior and member of SADD,
said the campaign lets students know that "not everyone's drinking,
not everyone has to drink."
School students surveyed in October 2002 thought that 53 percent of
their peers were drinking in the month leading up to the survey, while
40 percent actually drank in that time. Sixty-seven percent of students
thought their peers were drinking in the year before the survey, while
55 percent actually drank in that time. Because of incorrect information
provided to The Roanoke Times, these numbers were wrong in Tuesday's
New River Valley Current.
Copyright 2004 Roanoke
Times & World News