District to battle alcohol useBy Neil Gonzales
Mary Bier of Pacifica lost her teen nephew to an alcohol-related vehicle crash in 2005.
She doesn't want such a tragedy to befall her family and community again.
"I was scared for my daughter's life," Bier said.
So for the past two years, she has helped lead a community coalition to reduce alcohol use among local youth and create healthy alternatives for them.
A $370,000 federal grant recently awarded to the Jefferson Union High School District will give that kind of mission a strong boost.
"We believe alcohol use among students is a problem," district Superintendent Mike Crilly said. "We have a responsibility to do something about it. We have a high level of that in Pacifica. We need to address that."
The three-year funding from the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools will provide substance-abuse prevention counselors to the district's campuses, Crilly said.
He added that the grant will strengthen the district's ongoing collaboration with the Asian American Recovery Services Inc. and Youth Leadership Institute to establish recreational and other enrichment services steering students away from destructive behavior.
Students at Pacifica's Terra Nova High, in particular, have shown a high rate of alcohol involvement compared to those across the district, San Mateo County and the state.
"It seems that's what everybody does on the weekends," said Bier's daughter, 14-year-old Elisa Clemo, who will be a sophomore at Terra Nova this fall. "A lot of peopleI know do it to look cool."
She and others also said that part of the problem is a lack of recreational and socially-positive opportunities for youngsters in Pacifica.
"If there's more stuff to do, maybe people won't stay at home and drink all the time," Clemo said.
According to the district and most-recent results from the California Healthy Kids Survey, 31 percent of ninth-graders and 47 percent of 11th-graders at Terra Nova used alcohol during a 30-day period in 2005.
Also, 17 percent of ninth-graders and 32 percent of 11th-graders at Terra Nova participated in binge drinking during a 30-day stretch in 2005.
Districtwide, 24 percent of ninth-graders and 33 percent of 11th-graders drank alcohol while 11 percent of ninth-graders and 18 percent of 11th-graders binged. The district percentages, for the most part, were lower than the countywide and statewide figures.
The survey defines bingeing as consuming five drinks in a row during a single setting.
The survey is done every two years and is part of a state project to assess California's seventh-, ninth- and 11th-graders.
Alcohol issues also hit the Terra Nova community hard more than two years ago when Jonathan Bier, 19, and Stephanie Echeverri, 16, both died in a drunken-driving crash in Pacifica.
Jonathan Bier graduated from Terra Nova in 2002, while Echeverri was in her junior year there. They were passengers in a truck driven by Mark Michielsen of Pacifica, who prosecutors said had a blood-alcohol level of .15 - almost twice the legal limit.
Authorities said that according to Michielsen, the three had been drinking that night. Michielsen was 20 at the time. The legal age to consume alcohol in California is 21.
Michielsen was sentenced to eight years in prison in connection with the deadly crash, which mobilized the community to form the Partnership for a Safe and Healthy Pacifica.
The group, which Mary Bier coordinates, has pushed efforts cracking down on liquor stores selling to minors and has sponsored drug-free youth activities.
Bier said the federal grant will complement such work.
"I think if anything it'll bring technical assistance, training and more guidance," she said. "It's about getting the message out there. Any way we can do that will be helpful."
Copyright ©2007 San Mateo County Times. Published 07/15/2007.