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Drinking by minors is targeted

Teen drinking targeted Teenagers help police as part of crackdown

Chelsea's latest battle against underage drinking is being fought with the help of underage residents.

This past weekend alone, four adults were arrested on charges that they agreed to buy alcohol for adolescents working with local police outside liquor stores.

These stings, referred to by police as ''shoulder tap surveys," will be ongoing for the next four to five years. Those adults found guilty face fines of $2,000, according to Chelsea Police Captain Brian Kyes.

They are part of an initiative by CHAMPION Youth/Chelsea Coalition, which has identified underage drinking as the most severe problem affecting Chelsea youth, said coalition member Amy Harris of Chelsea Alcohol/Substance Abuse Program.

Joining the efforts of the coalition will be the Chelsea School Committee, whose members have called a conference Nov. 9 of community members, leaders, parents, and school personnel to discuss the results of the state's 2003 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, said Barbara MacDonald, administrator for special projects for the School Department.

Chelsea was among 50 high schools voluntarily participating in the research by the state Department of Education. The survey, which is filled out by students, provides information on behaviors, including the use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs.

School Committee member Morrie Seigal said the results of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which the School Committee received last spring, ''shook us up a bit" in terms of alcohol and drug use among students.

''We were aware that our kids -- like all high schools, because Chelsea is not the only one with this problem -- too many of our kids are involved with drugs and alcohol, so it's not something new," Seigal said. '' . . . What the School Committee wants to do is ask the community to help us intensify the fight against these evils."

The upcoming meeting at the William Berkowitz school band room is scheduled to include all of the city's community organizations. School Committee chairwoman Elizabeth McBride said the School Committee wants to make sure it is properly working with all the community organizations to help curb students' involvement with risky behavior.

''Just to get together and see how we can help each other because we're all involved and it's a problem we have," McBride said, adding that the School Department can only do so much. ''It's up to the parents to take some control."

Mary Bourque, assistant superintendent of schools, said the student-reported data actually shows that Chelsea's results were better than the state's in some areas, but improvement needs to continue in all areas.

''That's the reason for this summit. It's the beginning of something very good on the community level," Bourque said. ''I think it's larger than the School Department. It's the community at large invited to this conference. We're looking for an effort on the community's part to save all of our children, pay attention to their concerns and areas of stress, what society is putting in front of them, and from there, come up with possible solutions and plans of action."

The Chelsea Coalition, which is targeting underage drinking, is scheduled to be represented at the Nov. 9 meeting, at which members will discuss their plan for halting minors' access to alcohol.

Using past results of youth risk behavior surveys starting eight years ago, as well as talking to parents, community groups, police, youth, and focus groups, the coalition has focused on controlling substance abuse, said Harris.

In a survey of 158 people conducted by the coalition and recently presented to the community, 65 percent said that underage drinking was at level 7 to 10 in severity, on a scale where 1 is ''not a problem" and 10 is ''a severe problem." Of the participants, 40 percent said people under 21 get their alcohol from adults on the street, hence the beginning of the shoulder tap surveys, Harris said.

''What we're addressing is a science-based model developed through the University of Minnesota called Communities Mobilizing for Change on Alcohol. It's basically a community-organizing program designed to reduce access to alcohol by changing community policies and practices," Harris said.

''One of the practices we're looking at right now is the older people buying alcohol for young people. . . . The research shows that when access is easy, alcohol consumption increases, and when access is less easy, the consumption goes down," she said.

Harris said that the concept of cutting off access sounds simple, but it requires continuous gathering of community input and feedback.

Katheleen Conti can be reached at Nov. 9 conference will be held at the William Berkowitz school band room, from 6 to 8 p.m.

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