BELMONT -- It was easier to prepare for than a snow day, and more educational: With a few clicks on their computers, hundreds of boys at the private Belmont Hill School earned a day off today after they passed an online seminar on the risks of alcohol.
The school sought to rivet students' attention on a subject they often shrug off. Federal surveys show that almost 80 percent of teens have a drink by the time they are high school seniors.
Schools across the Commonwealth teach students about the perils of alcohol and drugs, but the owners of Outside the Classroom, Inc., a Newton-based company that created the software, said it was the first time a school rewarded students with a vacation day.
''We think it's an important enough issue to not only require it but to also offer an incentive that's meaningful," said Cliff Goodband, acting head of the 430-student school. ''For us to lose a day of school is important."
Yesterday, students cheered the school for starting winter break a day early, but they gave the program mixed reviews.
Some couldn't remember the details of what they'd learned. Others said the program corrected myths, like the idea that coffee and a cold shower can sober someone up.
The 90-minute online program quizzed students on their knowledge of alcohol and taught science-based lessons on how their bodies respond to alcohol. Then, they had to take a final exam online on what they'd learned.
''I think it was a good way to motivate people to do it," said sophomore Sam Klemmer, 16, of Needham. ''Everybody basically thought they knew what they needed to know."
Taylor Glor, 17, of Wellesley, clicked through the lesson at home and pronounced it ''pretty good, I guess."
''There's definitely a lot of information in it," he said and shrugged. ''I kind of just blew through it."
Belmont Hill is a $25,000-a-year preparatory school on 30 acres dotted with red brick buildings and a hockey rink. Like any school, Goodband said, students could have fake IDs or off-campus parties where alcohol flows freely. Six students were disciplined in the early 1990s when they showed up drunk at a football game.
The online seminar cost $4,000, covered by a parent donation, and it is the school's latest effort to fight alcohol abuse. The school also runs a ''safe house" program. Parents and students sign contracts promising that students will not drink at their homes, and their names are placed on a list they all share.
It's not the only problem the school is tackling. A new vice has emerged: ''There's a lot of poker now," Klemmer said.