Program seeks to educate preteens about drinking

Curry County Undersheriff Doug Bowman speaks to James Bickley fifth-graders Thursday morning in their classroom about alcohol use and its effects. (Staff photo: Tony Bullocks)

By Tonya Garner: CNJ staff writer

The words scrawled in red across the board at the front of the classroom asked a sobering question: Why do kids drink?

“Because parents do,” was the most popular answer among the students, with “stress” being a close second.

The question was one of many Curry County Undersheriff Doug Bowman posed to fifth-graders Thursday morning at James Bickley Elementary as part of a countywide campaign to educate students about underage drinking.

Curry County DWI Coordinator Miranda Chavez is in charge of the program. The undersheriff, who is also father to a 2-year-old son, said he chose to participate in the educational program because of his love of children.

“Kids are impressionable,” Bowman said, “so we need to talk to them about alcohol.”

The preteens sipped juice and munched crackers as Bowman addressed them regarding alcohol consumption. The law enforcement officer kept the students engaged with humorous mispronunciations and positive reinforcement for correct answers. The students learned the effect alcohol has on the brain and participated in a group quiz.

Bowman challenged the youngsters to find an alternative to drinking. Most boys chose basketball and video games while the most girls said they would opt “to live and think” instead of drinking.

The laughter-filled room became eerily quiet as Bowman recounted the story of a young man lying in a hospital bed with alcohol-related liver failure. Bowman warned the female students that alcohol would cloud their judgment and gave a chilling account of two Albuquerque teenagers assaulted after drinking tequila. “Believe me … alcohol will ruin your life,” Bowman said.

Fifth-grader Josh Mendoza enjoyed the program.

“It was interesting,” Mendoza said. “I knew some of this but I learned a lot.” Although Mendoza doesn’t consider alcohol to be a major issue for his age group, he said he does plan to avoid it.

“If I ever go to a party where there is alcohol,” Mendoza said, “then I will just leave.”