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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Grant to Students: “Don’t be Afraid to Say ‘No’”

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Wednesday, June 15, 2005

MCLA President Mary K. Grant speaks to Conte Middle School students about under-age drinking.
North Adams - Young teens often play a risky version of “follow the leader” when out with their peers, but several middle school students found a positive example to follow during a June 15 Silvio O. Conte Middle School event.

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts President Mary K. Grant visited the school and encouraged about 20 sixth-grade students to resist peer pressure and under-age drinking temptations during a “Reach Out Now” teach-in session.

The program was sponsored by middle school officials and the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition. The lesson was designed by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The “teach-in” is part of a national initiative aimed at curbing under-age alcohol use. NBCC Executive Director Alan Bashevkin and program coordinators Caroline Scully and Shannon Barsotti attended the presentation, as did North Adams Public Schools Superintendent James Montepare.

"No": A Positive Negative

Grant introduced the program during a middle school health class. Student attention appeared riveted on Grant and what she had to say.

Under-age alcohol use is an across-the-board concern for all educators, even those at the college level, Grant said.

“One of the things I wanted to talk to you about is how to use your ‘smart heads,’” Grant said during the morning session.

“It’s so important that you use your ‘good heads,’” Grant said. “You have parents, guardians, teachers, your school superintendent; you are surrounded by people who love you. There’s nothing cool about being drunk and getting into a car and putting your friends in danger. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no, you need to back off,’ or ‘no, I don’t need this, I have other things in my life.’ It will be respected.”

The recently graduated MCLA Class of 2005 “was the coolest bunch of kids,” Grant said.

“All these students did great things and they didn’t need alcohol to feel good or excited,” she said.

Grant emphasized the adverse effects that illegal drinking can have on dreams of higher education. An invitation to tour the MCLA campus was met with an enthusiastic student response.

Taking Action

Students were eager to discuss alcohol use with Grant and presented her with actions that they would consider if faced with alcohol-related situations. For example, if a friend was drinking and driving, students said that they might call home for a ride, call a taxicab, walk, or spend the night at their location rather than ride with a drunk driver.

One student said that he would risk parental repercussions if necessary.

“I’d rather get into trouble than die,” he said.

Students listed consequences of alcohol use and abuse, such as addiction, organ damage, and loss of consciousness.

“And it can kill you,” said Grant.

Lopsided Misery

When near a person who is under the influence of alcohol, students feel “anxious,” “annoyed,” and “concerned,” they said. And those who use alcohol appear “lopsided and drowsy,” and “miserable,” according to several students.

Students should confide in an adult when faced with peer pressure or other difficult situations and should also hone their abilities to stand up for what they know is right and healthy.

“Underage drinking can follow you around for the rest of your life,” Grant said. “If you feel any pressure, you have adults that you can go to who love you.”

“When you get to college, there will be the same pressures,” she said. “But by then, you’ll be old pros at saying ‘no’ and setting limits.”

Whose College Is It, Anyway?

There were lighter moments during Grant’s classroom visit. One curious student asked Grant if she owned the college “or do you just run it?”

“Some days I feel like I own it,” Grant answered with a smile and explained that MCLA is a state college.

And after she explained that she was the college president, another student asked, “how long is your term?”

“A long time, I hope,” Grant said, and then explained that the job of MCLA college president has no term limit.

Would You Eat Rotting Potatoes?

Conte Principal Diane Ryczk, who is also a certified health teacher, took over the class when Grant finished speaking. After pondering the adverse effects of alcohol, one student asked a pivotal question: “So why do people keep doing it?”


School Principal Diane Ryczk continued the "Reach Out Now" lesson.
Ryczk and the students engaged in a discussion about peer pressure and perceptions.

“It’s always easier to do something when someone else is doing it, too,” Ryczk said. “It makes it not seem so bad. What do you think would happen if not one of you ever touched a drop of alcohol?”

From the back of the room, an answer shot forth quickly.

“The world would be a better place.”

Ryczk told students a bit about how alcoholic beverages are made.

“This might gross you out, but vodka is made from rotting potatoes,” she said. Ryczk also explained that the term “fermenting” means “rotting.”

Ryczk described the impact of alcohol on the brain and organs such as the liver.

At the program’s conclusion, student Taryn DeSanty vowed to forgo any underage alcohol use.

“I think if you are underage you should definitely not do it,” she said.

Taryn said she is aware of the dangers of drinking alcoholic beverages and doesn’t want to endanger her future with risky behaviors.

“I want to be a nurse,” she said. “And I’m not going to let anything get in the way.”

Susan Bush can be reached by calling 802-823-9367 or by e-mail at suebush123@adelphia.net.
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