For many students, drinking alcohol starts in junior high, not high school or college.
"I hear most people say that they started in about the ninth grade - a few people in the eighth grade, but that's not as common," said Karl McDonald, 17, a Free State High School senior.
He and Lydia Krug, 18, also a Free State senior, estimated Friday as they walked downtown that about two-thirds of their class members regularly drink alcohol. They said that if you want to get alcohol, you can, either through an older sibling or using what McDonald called a "Hey Mister": stopping a stranger and asking him to buy it.
Underage drinking is nothing new, but a new effort in Douglas County and across the state aims to draw more attention to the issue and to encourage parents to start talking with their children about it.
The local campaign kicks off with a town hall-style forum at 7 a.m. Tuesday at the Community Health Facility, 200 Maine. The event is open to the public, and so far about 50 people have called ahead to say they'll attend, said Janelle Martin, executive director of the Douglas County Community Health Improvement Project.
What: Town hall-style forum on drinking When: 7 a.m. Tuesday Where: Community Health Facility, 200 Maine Contact: Jen Brinkerhoff at 841-4138
The event will include local junior high school students as panelists and will cover topics including alcohol-related crashes, treatment options and underage drinking laws. Martin said she hoped it would "open some eyes to some of the parents who are in the audience."
"What we're hoping is that we can start a discussion communitywide among people who have kids that fall within the age range of fifth grade going up through high school to start talking with kids about the availability of alcohol : and about some of the harmful effects," Martin said.
Similar events will be taking place in 27 other counties in Kansas. All are tied to a federal campaign titled "Start Talking Before They Start Drinking," with information online at www.stopalcoholabuse.gov.
According to the Community Health Improvement Project's figures, one-third of Kansas students in grades 8-12 reported in a 2005 survey that they drink at least monthly. Almost 22 percent reported they have gone on a drinking binge, defined as having five or more drinks in a short period of time.
People who are interested in attending Tuesday's event are asked to contact Jen Brinkerhoff by calling 841-4138 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.