More than 260 seventh graders from the four Sharp County School Districts were in Evening Shade Oct. 12 to learn what alcohol can do to their bodies and minds before they take their first sip or get behind the wheel of a car.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving Sharp County President Sharon Qualls said most children have their first drink at age 12. MADD, along with Health Resources of Arkansas, hosted the underage drinking prevention program at the school.
"We were trying to find an age group that hadn't started driving yet and could still be influenced," Qualls said.
Of the 2 million teens in the United States, approximately 1 million consume alcohol, Qualls said. It is the most used drug in the nation and kills 6.5 times more young people than all other elicit drugs combined, she said.
"We bring them in and tell them how alcohol affects their bodies and their brains, how to say no when offered alcohol and what to say to friends who choose to drink alcohol," Qualls said. "Anyone who consumes an extensive amount of alcohol can lose 12 percent of their brain. That can mean the difference between passing and failing in school."
Students wore goggles that impaired their vision and tried to walk a straight line and perform normal tasks. Students soon learned that drinking changes everything. They were encouraged to watch for signs of danger, listen for phrases that mean trouble, select the smart choice and plan a creative response if they are ever offered alcohol.
"If they see that there is alcohol and drugs at a get-together they should just leave, but sometimes that isn't possible," Qualls said. "We want them to know what to do if they can't leave."
Students also learned how alcohol can kill in an instant.
Rick Crook, agent with the 3rd Judicial District Drug Task Force, said his family changed forever when he was 14.
While driving along an Arkansas highway with his father, a drunken driver crossed the center line and hit Crook's car. His father and the drunken driver were killed, and Crook spent three days in the hospital. Nine months later his brother died in a drunken driving accident, but this time his brother, married with children, was the drunken driver.
"Do you think he said, 'I'm going to go out and kill myself tonight?' I don't think so," said Crook, a MADD member. "When you get behind the wheel someone can die."
Robin Ramsdale, an Evening Shade teacher and MADD member, also lost a loved one to a drunken driver.
Five years ago his brother, who he thought of like a father, was traveling home from a casino with a girlfriend in Arizona. The couple had nothing to drink but the driver of the pickup truck that hit them had, so much that he didn't even know he had been in an accident, Ramsdale said.
His brother was killed and his girlfriend was badly injured. The driver of the truck, an illegal alien with a wife and three children in Mexico, was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
"His family didn't need to suffer because of his wrong decisions," Ramsdale said. "Drinking and driving is extremely dangerous."
Qualls said parents should talk to their children about alcohol and drinking and driving.
"These kids are just starting earlier and earlier. Parental involvement is very important," she said.
For more information call MADD Sharp County at 870-266-3680.