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Park Rapids teens start alcohol dialogue among peers

A new poster promoting alcohol-free choices is circulating Park Rapids schools. Photo by - Anna Erickson/Forum News Service

A dialogue about alcohol use perception has started among Park Rapids high school students.

We Decide, a student organization that encourages making good choices regarding alcohol use, has launched the first in a poster series at the high school.

The first poster says, "When hanging out with friends, most Park Rapids students would rather not drink alcohol."

The statement is based on data collected in the Minnesota Positive Community Norms survey. The goal is to start a conversation to close the gap between actual norms and misperceptions of norms.

The posters were placed around the school over Christmas break and students were already noticing them and talking about them this week.

Kendra Holman, a sophomore, said she thinks the poster gets the message across and she thinks it's probably accurate.

Sophomore Tiffany Schilling agreed.

"My friends don't drink. We play X Box and just hang out," she said.

Jake Firehammer, a sophomore, said he thinks a lot of people might think someone drinks alcohol but the reality might be different.

The student organization We Decide is a branch of the Hubbard in Prevention (HIP) coalition, an organization geared toward alcohol prevention among youth.

HIP was formed after Hubbard County received a five-year $1 million grant through the Minnesota Department of Human Services to address alcohol consumption by youth.

Beth Heltunen, alcohol prevention coordinator, has been working with the coalition to create messages that present data to youth in grades 7-12. The goal is to reach 80 percent of this audience at least once every two weeks.

Messages are pilot tested among students at the high school and then refined before they are presented.

"I've been going over the lunch period and the students are starting to recognize me and what I'm doing," Heltunen said.

High school principal Jeff Johnson said that a lot of the research and legwork has been done and the next steps are exciting.

"Once we started presenting the data and statistics it will really get people talking," he said.

A common theme that was heard during conversations with Hubbard County residents during interviews this fall was that many community leaders don't place preventing underage drinking as a high priority.

HIP is working to change that attitude by raising awareness of the issue. A town hall meeting is being planned for this spring and anyone from the community will be invited to attend and learn more about HIP.

The We Decide student organization meets monthly before school. A leadership group also meets monthly.

Brenda Johnson, the group's advisor, said she is impressed by the dedication of the students.

"We're developing some great leaders that can pass along their knowledge to other students," she said.

Students will be working on a photo voice project in the coming months and make a presentation about how they see the community. They are also researching the student survey data and going through leadership training.

"It will be exciting to watch how perceptions start changing in the community," Johnson said.

For more information on HIP contact Heltunen at 237-5462 or

Anna Erickson writes for the Park Rapids Enterprise.