The Other 60 Percent

Colorado counties target teen drinking

Nineteen-year-old Chantel Chavez has more reason than most young people to avoid drugs and alcohol. Growing up, she watched drugs engulf her mother, though she didn’t know it at the time.

The Speak Now Colorado campaign gives parents tips for talking with their children about drinking. Photo courtesy Speak Now Colorado

“We didn’t understand why she was leaving,” said Chavez, a recent graduate of Westminster High School who is now attending Colorado State University in Fort Collins. “We just always knew our mom couldn’t be at things like our dad could.”

When she got to high school, there were times she was tempted to abuse alcohol the way some of her friends did. “There were a few of my friends, maybe five, who were really party people,” she said. “There was a lot of drinking, but I don’t think it was as crazy as some people thought it was.”

But Chavez found her passion and her focus in high school not in partying but rather in the Young Leaders Society of Adams County, a group dedicated to battling underage binge drinking, especially among Latino youth.

Chavez began participating in the organization’s fun activities like movie nights and potlucks. She also went to educational conferences and helped with community service events. She helped design a social marketing campaign geared to warn her classmates about the dangers of substance abuse.

Four counties targeted with grant money

The campaign, dubbed “I’m Going Places,” as well as the Young Leaders Society, is part of a wide-ranging effort to lower the rates of binge drinking among Colorado’s youth, particularly among Latino youth.

The project, called the Colorado Prevention Partnership for Success, is funded through a $2.3 million federal grant targeting the state’s four counties with the highest concentration of Latino youth – Denver, Adams, Weld and Pueblo.

Now in the fourth year of the five-year grant, the project has already seen some noteworthy progress. Based on statewide surveys, underage drinking in Colorado is falling, and the disparity in underage drinking rates between Latino youth and other youth is disappearing.

Chavez is one of those young people whose life might have been ever so much different if not for the support and motivation she got through the campaign. But there are others.

Underage drinking decreases in Colorado

Findings from the 2011 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey show that alcohol use among high school students in the state has fallen from about 75 percent in 2005 to about 65 percent, and that use among Latino high schoolers is only fractionally higher.

Among middle school students, however, almost 40 percent of Latino students report having consumed alcohol at some point, a rate more than twice as high as that of white students. Binge drinking – defined as having five or more drinks in two hours – was reported by almost 1 in 10 Latino middle schoolers, while only negligible numbers of white students reported such heavy alcohol use. By the time they get to high school, binge drinking evens out to about 20 percent for all youth, regardless of ethnicity.

“We’re really trying to create an awareness that it’s more normal than not to refrain from using alcohol and drugs,” said Beckah Terlouw, project manager for the Adams County Prevention Partnership, which oversees the activities in the county. “Most young people do not habitually use. But students overestimate how many of their peers are using alcohol. Reality versus perception is huge. We want to empower young people to be comfortable saying no to these choices.”

In Adams County, the campaign involves partnering with the major school districts, as well as with community groups, to sponsor family nights and parent forums as a way to help parents who are struggling to know how to talk to their children about alcohol and drug use.

That 2011 Healthy Kids Colorado survey showed that fewer than half the state’s middle school students had had a conversation with their parents about alcohol in the past year.

“Just eating family meals together can significantly decrease children’s use of drugs and alcohol,” Terlouw said. “We know the economy is hard and schedules are hard, but being a place where families can come in and have a meal, where they don’t have to think about it, where activities are planned can be such a good thing. And parents can go home with new skills and tools.”

In Greeley, “make mine root beer”

In Weld County, the Weld County Prevention Partnership has supported everything from social norming campaigns in the schools to recruiting restaurants, bars and liquor stores to be more pro-active about not serving alcohol to minors.

“It’s a comprehensive approach. We’re doing a lot of things at once,” said Nomie Ketterling, coordinator of the program. “The idea is that we’re changing the environment.”.

In Weld County, changing the environment involves everything from making available t-shirts that say “Make mine root beer” to a graffiti mural project to ads, posters and newsletters. A website provides teens tips for talking to their parents about drugs and alcohol, and tips for parents who want to talk to their children about it.

The Strengthening Families program is a seven-session class in which families can do role-playing, watch videos and play games designed to reinforce the need to avoid underage drinking.

Focus on homecoming and prom activities

In Denver, the Department of Human Services has its Resource for Awareness and Prevention, which offers referrals to for parents and youth with substance abuse issues, education classes for families, tool kits for parents, community presentations and other efforts.

“One pamphlet we just created is “Know the Law,” which has information about underage drinking in Colorado,” said Jodi Lockhart, prevention coordinator. “There are so many parts of our program. We work with youth directly, and we do widespread messaging I the schools around high-risk times like Homecoming and prom.”

In Pueblo, the Pueblo Alliance for Healthy Teens and the Pueblo Alliance to Prevent Underage Drinking/Drugging is using social marketing, substance abuse prevention education and alcohol-free activities for youth to target that county’s underage drinking problem.

Statewide, the Speak Now Campaign aims at getting parents to have conversations about alcohol and drug use with their teen-age children, and offer guidelines for putting together a family plan for reducing or eliminating underage drinking.

“They’re all doing very good work,” said Stan Paprocki, community prevention program manager for the state’s Division of Behavioral Health, which oversees the federal grant. “And they’re all so very different.”

Colorado’s underage drinking laws

Most likely charge

  • The charge of “minor in possession” is the most common charge in the state when it comes to underage drinking
  • Any teen found with alcohol or suspected of consuming may face a charge of minor in possession
  • Possession or consumption of alcohol by a minor is only allowed if it happens on private property, with the property owner’s consent and under direct supervision of that minor’s parent or guardian

Possible sanctions

  • First offense for a minor in possession charge: Fine up to $250, up to 24 hours community service and a license revocation for three months if the minor fails to follow court-ordered instructions
  • Second offense: Fine up to $500, up to 24 hours community service, mandatory alcohol class and a license revocation for six months
  • Third offense or more: Three to 12 months imprisonment and/or $250 to $1,000 fine, mandatory alcohol class and a license revocation for a year

Source: Denver Resource for Awareness and Protection

raising the curtain

Aurora high school students started rehearsing a musical about an earlier time — and discovered ‘harsh truths’ about today

Ebony Nash, left, sings during a rehearsal of Ragtime at Hinkley High School. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Nine weeks ago, more than 50 theater and choir students at Aurora’s Hinkley High School came together to begin work on a musical set in turn-of-the-20th-century New York.

At first, the kids did what high school students often do — cluster into familiar cliques, or self-segregate by race. Then the students started immersing themselves in the material.

The musical, “Ragtime,” intertwines the stories of a white family, a Jewish immigrant family and an African-American couple to spotlight differences and commonalities in the American experience.

At the urging of their teachers and directors, the Hinkley students began to use the plot and characters to examine their own actions, prejudice and biases. About 92 percent of Hinkley’s more than 2,100 students are students of color, the vast majority of them Latino.

The cliques and segregation slipped away. The production began taking shape.

“Ragtime” gets its Hinkley High School debut on Thursday and will be performed again on Friday and Saturday.

Chalkbeat sat down with a group of students involved in the production as they were in final preparations to learn about what their experience had taught them. The following is a portion of that conversation, slightly condensed and rearranged for clarity:

Janelle Douglas, a 17-year-old senior who portrays a friend of one of the story’s main characters, said the first time she saw and read through Ragtime, “it was intense.” She often cries as she rehearses her solo, sung during a funeral.

DOUGLAS: “I thought, this is powerful. This is overwhelming. This is amazing.”

Pamela Arzate, 17, plays the role of Evelyn Nesbit, a real model and actress who is incorporated into the fictional story and accused of being shallow.

ARZATE: “It’s very eye-opening because you look at it and it’s just a simple musical, but if you take a step back and go to the real world, it’s the exact same thing that’s going on today.”

Hodaly Sotelo, 17, plays the role of Mother, a woman whose attitudes toward her identity as a wife and woman evolve throughout the story.

SOTELO: “It reminds me of when I was younger and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re over all that racism.’ But now, I look back and I think, what the heck? This stuff is still going on and we thought it was way over.”

Brianna Mauricio-Perez, 17, is one of two student directors.

MAURICIO-PEREZ: “It talks about all of the harsh truths that no one wants to talk about.”

DOUGLAS: “I think it’s safe to say it shows the true colors of our history.”

MAURICIO-PEREZ: “Even within our cast we did have to have a talk about how we were so separated because we were at the very beginning. Everyone was in their little groups and with their friends. You just want to keep to yourself.”

DOUGLAS: “It was literally ‘Ragtime.’”

MAURICIO-PEREZ: “We had a big talk with everybody. Things have gotten so much better. By the end of Act Two, we were all mixed up.”

Brenda Castellanos, 17, plays the role of Emma Goldman, drawn from a real-life political activist and anarchist.

CASTELLANOS: “Now that we’re closer, now that we’re all comfortable, we put in more effort.”

After nearly every rehearsal, teachers and directors give students a talk, urging them to immerse themselves in the feelings of their characters, relating to them if necessary through their parents, grandparents or ancestors who were immigrants, or through current events.

“What if you saw someone beaten, and bloodied and killed in front of you?” one director asked.

They also remind students of why the play should be impactful. “You have to figure out how for two-and-a-half hours you can give hope to that audience,” Marie Hayden, Hinkley’s choir director told students last week.

CASTELLANOS: “I think it it helps us. Every day, we get more into it and more into it until we actually believe it. You actually feel it — like how Janelle feels when she’s singing and she starts crying and makes everybody cry. We all feel connected.”

Students say they have different scenes that impact them the most, but they don’t hesitate to find how the scenes relate to their life despite the story being set in the first decade of the 1900s. Hayden’s class and the practice for the musical are safe places where they can discuss those parallels, they said.

Shavaun Mar, 16, is a junior who plays the main character of Coalhouse Walker Jr., a ragtime piano player who is the target of racial attacks and struggles with revenge and forgiveness.

MAR: “I feel like that is crucial that we give people those opportunities to talk because a lot of people have very valid things to say but they just don’t have a way to get it out.”

CASTELLANOS: “The shootings.”

ARZATE: “The racism. They help us discuss it because there’s so many things that are going on. Pretty much everyday there’s a tragedy going on. And so, in a way, we can use that sentiment, that emotion that we feel with the real world and convey it when we’re doing this show. We use those feelings and we try to think about it in that way. To display that emotion. To display it to everyone else. And not directly represent what’s going on today but just to give them that ‘aha’ moment, like ‘wow.’”

Ebony Nash, 17, plays the character of Sarah, an innocent girl who wants to help her boyfriend settle his problems.

NASH: “It just makes us want justice in real life because these things are still going on even though it’s not out there. It just makes us want justice for our community. This musical showed me that I need to become better within myself because I’m not perfect.”

SOTELO: “It opened my eyes a lot more for sure. This kind of just makes me realize the problems I have. It makes me realize yea, I’m having immigration issues with my father right now, but that also my friends, you know, they’re going through the same thing too. This DACA stuff or this coming out stuff. I became more accepting of what other people might be going through and how I can help.”

MAR: “The past few years, I have been in a bit of a shell. So putting myself in this situation and pushing myself to be this other person has really shown me what I’m capable of and it’s helping me break out of that shell and realize who I am as a person.”

NASH: “Basically, this is our getaway from real life because we get to come on stage and be somebody else. It also makes us want to put the story out right so people can understand. So people can feel what we want them to feel.”

CASTELLANOS: “That there’s hope after all this corruption that’s going on.”

DOUGLAS: “That even in your bad times you can still laugh, cry, dance.”

NASH: “What I want people to get from this is change. To learn how to change and learn how to forgive and learn how to come together as a community and just, like their worth.”

SOTELO: “And to be strong. To stand up for what’s right.”

ARZATE: “And it might sound weird, but I feel like they should feel a certain level of uncomfort because that means that they’re going to look at themselves while seeing the musical. Maybe they’ll go ‘I’m uncomfortable because I do that’ or ‘I have that prejudice’ or ‘I feel that certain way,’ so if they come out and they feel uncomfortable and then at the end they’re like, ‘Wow. There’s that hope for change.’ Hopefully that like…”

DOUGLAS: “… It inspires them to do better.”

ARZATE: “Like, you can do it.”

SOTELO: “It’s kind of like a water droplet. One small move can domino-effect to something bigger.”


Taking attendance

Want to make middle school admissions more fair? Stop looking at this measure, parents say

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Middle school students write their names down at a high school fair in Brooklyn.

Parents across New York City have pushed for changes in the way selective middle schools pick their students, saying the process is unfair.

Now, a group of Manhattan parents has come up with a novel solution: Stop looking at students’ attendance records.

The parent council in District 2 — where about 70 percent of middle schools admit students based on their academic records — points to research showing that students from low-income families are far more likely to miss school. Those children are at a distinct disadvantage in the competition for the district’s top middle school seats, the council argues, even though factors beyond the control of any fourth-grader — especially family homelessness — often account for poor attendance and tardiness.

“This outsized focus on attendance disproportionately impacts students who don’t have secure housing and may not have secure healthcare, and that is troubling to me,” said Eric Goldberg, a member of the community education council in District 2, which includes stretches of Lower Manhattan and the Upper East Side. “There are many factors that should not impact a student’s educational opportunities — and the way the system is set up, it does.”

Eighteen of the district’s 24 middle schools are “screened,” meaning they rank applicants based on factors including test scores, grades, and interviews. Of those, all but one school also considers how often students were late or absent in fourth grade, according to the parent council.

Most of the schools assign points to each factor they consider. Some give absences 10 times more weight than science or social studies grades, the council found, while others penalize students for even a single absence or instance of tardiness.

Disadvantaged students are especially likely to miss school.

A recent report by the city’s Independent Budget Office found that homeless students are more likely than other students to be chronically absent — typically defined as missing about 10 percent of the school year.

Schools with the highest chronic absenteeism are in communities in “deep poverty,” which have the highest rates of unemployment and family involvement with the child-welfare system, according to a 2014 report by the New School at the Center for New York City Affairs.

“We can use chronic absenteeism as a good guess of all the other things kids are dealing with,” said Nicole Mader, a senior research fellow at the New School and a co-author of the report. “If these middle schools are using absenteeism to weed kids out, that means they’re going to automatically weed out those kids who have the most barriers to academic success already.”

The attendance requirement can put pressure on any family, regardless of their financial status or housing situation.

Banghee Chi, a parent of two children in District 2, said she sometimes sent her younger daughter to school with a fever when she was in fourth grade rather than have her marked absent.

Her daughter would show up to class only to be sent to the school’s health clinic — which would call Chi to pick her up. Chi was thinking ahead to middle school, when a missed day of class could hurt her chances of getting into the most sought-after schools.

“It was something I was really conscious and aware of during my child’s fourth-grade year,” she said. “I think it’s unfair.”

The education council’s resolution, which will be put to vote in December, is nonbinding because middle schools set their own admissions criteria. But a show of support from parents could lead to action from the education department, which has been prodded by integration advocates to make other changes in high school and middle school admissions.

This summer, the department announced it would end the practice of “revealed rankings,” which allowed middle schools to select only those students who listed them first or second on their applications. The city is also appointing a committee of parents, educators, and community leaders in Brooklyn’s District 15 to come up with a proposal for making that district’s middle school applications process more fair.

“We’re collaborating with communities across the city to make school admissions more equitable and inclusive, including in District 2,” said department spokesman Will Mantell in an email. The department looks forward “to further conversations about this resolution and other efforts to improve middle school admissions in District 2.”