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Schools to focus on alcohol abuse among students.

Byline: Paula J. Owen

FITCHBURG - Two programs to reduce alcohol abuse by youths in the Fitchburg School District will be up and running within the next few months, said Assistant Superintendent Paula M. Giaquinto.

Fitchburg is one of five school districts in north central Worcester County that will benefit from the three-year state grant.

It is the lead applicant for the funding for the North Central Prevention Consortium, which includes the Fitchburg, Leominster, Gardner, Ashburnham, Westminster and Quabbin Regional school districts and LUK crisis center.

The consortium was awarded $187,000 the first year of the grant, with the same level of funding for the project expected in the next two years.

"The intent of the project is to really communicate messages to youth that underage drinking is inappropriate and unacceptable," Ms. Giaquinto said.

The results of a Youth Risk Behavior Survey released earlier this year showed students in north central Worcester County were more likely to engage in underage drinking than their peers across the state, she said.

The survey was done in February and April by LUK, with 8,000 students in north Central Massachusetts in Grades 6 through 12 questioned about their behaviors.

In Fitchburg schools, 1,780 students were surveyed - around 76 percent of the students in school the days the surveys were done, according to Gordon L. Benson from LUK, who presented the data to school officials.

"According to the state's department of education, in 2006, 76 percent of students surveyed used alcohol at some point in adolescence," Ms. Giaquinto said. "In north central Worcester County, the LUK survey reveals a slightly higher level of youths reporting alcohol use."

The grant will be used to hire a project director, she said, with liaisons in all of the schools, to get two alcohol-reduction programs going.

The "All Stars" program is designed to delay and prevent high-risk behaviors such as alcohol and substance use and violence.

The Communities Mobilizing for Change on Alcohol program seek to develop positive personal characteristics in youths and reduce youths' access to alcohol in their communities.

"We're looking at support and counseling services within our schools for students looking for assistance," Ms. Giaquinto said.

"We are re-examining our school disciplinary codes to ensure they are in alignment with creating a safe environment in our schools that is free of students that abuse alcohol and drugs."

The state grant provides 91 percent funding for the project, she said.

The Fitchburg School Committee is examining the district's budget to find the balance of funding and will submit a revised budget to the state within the next few months, she explained.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Oct 14, 2009
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