"We just learn facts," Palisades High School student Briana McDevitt said. "We don't learn why not to do it."

As McDevitt made her comments during a town-hall meeting, March 28, at the Upper Bucks County campus of Bucks County Community College in Perkasie, students across the country were discussing similar issues during the National Underage Drinking Prevention Day.

By: Toni Becker

Learning about alcohol and learning about the consequences are two different things.

"We just learn facts," Palisades High School student Briana McDevitt said. "We don't learn why not to do it."

As McDevitt made her comments during a town-hall meeting, March 28, at the Upper Bucks County campus of Bucks County Community College in Perkasie, students across the country were discussing similar issues during the National Underage Drinking Prevention Day.

The town-hall meetings were expected to take place in 1,200 communities throughout the United States, all under the theme "Start Talking Before They Start Drinking."

In Upper Bucks County, students and parents from Quakertown, Palisades and Pennridge high schools were invited to attend the Perkasie event, "Look Who's Talking," sponsored by Healthy Communities-Healthy Youth (HCHY) in Quakertown, and organized by Palisades Promise.

"You have to know how to say no," said Ray Fox, Chair of the Quakertown area HCHY Coalition, as he led students through developing a mind map centered around the issue of underage drinking.

Working together students came up with reasons why teenagers drink both globally and specifically within Upper Bucks County.

"Because we have smaller schools we have more cliques and more peer pressure," McDevitt said, while other Palisades students cited the rural area, with "everything is so far away," and boredom, as reasons for underage drinking.

Fox's presentation was one of several set up throughout the building, with some focusing on teaching students and parents about the effects of alcohol and others focused on discussions where teenagers voiced their opinions.

"That's why I brought the pictures, so they can see the reality," said Kintnersville resident Linda Schaefer, who was seated in an upstairs hallway with several pictures of drunk driving accidents, and a poster that featured pictures of victims, of all ages, including one of her daughter Heather, who was killed in a drunk driving accident in 1994 at the age of 11.

"This is actually what happens. I figure if I could save one life it would be worth it."

Schaefer was joined by Palisades senior Chelsea Pursell.

Pursell, 18, is paralyzed from the waist down, along with several other problems, as a result of a drunk driving accident she was involved in two years ago, where the car she was a passenger in slammed into a utility pole.

"It's no big deal until they're in an accident," Pursell said, of the attitude by teenagers who may not think it's a big deal to drink.

"You've got to realize when you're making a destructive decision, that you cannot only mess up your life, but the lives of innocent people. It's not worth it."

Pursell said it was the first time she ever attended an event like the town-hall meeting and spoke to teenagers and parents about the effects underage drinking can have.

Since her accident, Pursell said she looks at things differently than before, but is not about to tell others what to do.

"It's not my place," she said, of telling other teenagers not to drink. "I ask them, I ask them, to be careful and to be responsible."

In another area of the seminar, Bucks County Assistant District Attorney Lyndsey Koches, who oversees the Juvenile Alcohol Awareness Program, was educating students and parents on the legal repercussions of underage drinking and driving under the influence.

She pointed to a recent case where a Bensalem High School senior pled guilty to driving under the influence of drugs and recklessly endangering another person, after striking a pregnant pedestrian on Sept. 25, killing the fetus and hospitalizing the woman.

The girl, Lauren Elliot, 18, admitted to being under the influence of marijuana and taking a painkiller, while driving.

"She's now looking at jail time because she made an incredibly stupid situation," Koches said.

Koches presented along with Trooper Steven Groman, of the Pennsylvania State Police in Dublin.

The presentations also included one by students Cayla Catino and Mychelle Kluskiewicz, who attended the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America Conference in Washington D.C. to advocate The Sober Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking (STOP) Act through Palisades Promise.

Parents and students were also given the opportunity to record their thoughts on underage drinking on video.

John Venner, a video production teacher for the Palisades High School Academy, videotaped the segments, which will be edited by academy students for the purpose of making a public service announcement.

"I think underage drinking is a problem because so many students don't realize the dangers of underage drinking and realize how quickly it can become a problem," Pennridge senior Diana Funk told the camera. "I think the adults in the community should address this problem before it starts."

The event at the Bucks County Community College was a start.

"I'm hoping they actually learn something," Schaefer said, of what she hoped students were taking away from her presence.

Toni Becker is a reporter for The Free Press. She can be reached at tkbecker@berksmontnews.com.

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