Students Give Students the "Courage to Live"
By Lynn Doan, Internet Reporter

Louisiana's teenagers are used to hearing lectures about underage drinking. Their parents moralize about it. Their teachers teach about it. And, their local police departments make every effort to enforce laws against it.

In spite of this, 40 percent of Louisiana eighth graders admit to having consumed two or more alcoholic beverages in the past, and the average student is drinking by age 12, according to the National Institute for Victim Studies. In fact, Louisiana has one of the highest rates of underage drinking and driving in the nation. 

"The scope of the problem is huge," said Mary Ann Aguirre, Program Attorney for the National Judicial College (NJC) in Reno, Nevada who created its underage drinking prevention campaign. "As many already know, alcohol is the number one killer of our nation's youth."

So now, through the NJC "Courage to Live" campaign, middle school students are learning the consequences of underage drinking from someone new: their own peers.

Bringing the Courage Home

In November 2001, Aguirre invited Louisiana Judge Doug Saloom to fly a team of state judicial personnel, school administrators, governmental agency representatives and prevention specialists to Reno for a workshop outlining the "Courage to Live" campaign.

Hosted by NJC and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the workshop provided teams from Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, Pennsylvania and Arkansas with guidelines for implementing their own version of the program at a local level.

"Louisiana's goal was to provide a 'no use' alcohol message and impaired driving prevention program to eighth graders...utilizing a trained group of high school facilitators," said Saloom. "There was no question that a peer-to-peer relationship was more effective than an adult simply telling an eighth grader not to drink."

The next step was taken the following summer, when the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission (LHSC) and the Attorney General's Office made a joint effort to train student volunteers from 17 high schools in 10 different parishes (counties) for community-based "Courage to Live" groups.

"All of the students had a really good time at the training," said Kasey Folse, a student volunteer who now attends Louisiana State University. "There are so many temptations around kids, and 'Courage to Live' is just another really good youth program that encourages positive choices."

After the four-day training session, students created plans to present the program to at least one middle school in each of their parishes by September 2002.

The Smell of Success

Ultimately, during the fall of 2002, "Courage to Live" student groups were able to reach an estimated 900 students at 11 middle schools, including one presentation to a class of sixth graders.

Each group tailored its program to fit the needs of the parish. Some students brought judges to talk about laws regarding underage drinking and driving, and others focused on NJC-provided videos, such as "Little Red Driving Hood" and "The Wrongs of Passage."

For some "Courage to Live" group members, preventing underage drinking is more than just an after school activity. Bryant Laiche, a high school student in West Seliciana, lost his sister when she was killed in a drunk driving accident. Laiche helped his parish's "Courage to Live" group present videos to eighth graders and conduct mock court trials.

"Being a teenager in today's society, you're really faced, one-on-one, with all this temptation," said Laiche, who is also the president of his parish's Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) chapter. "To be the bigger person and stand up for what you believe, to take the road less traveled, is a really hard thing to do."

Jamie Barth, the LHSC Program Coordinator, because of student volunteers like Laiche, the campaign far exceeded the original outreach goals.

"We only expected to reach 250 to 300 kids, but with the students on the job, we ended up reaching three times more," she said.

In June 2003, Sam Houston State University released a final report that confirms the success of Louisiana's "Courage to Live" program.  The report concluded that participants "changed their attitudes about underage drinking and came away from the program with more knowledge about alcohol, alcohol usage and the legal consequences of underage drinking."

Similar to the report's findings, Laiche said he felt "an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment that the group was actually making some headway in the fight against underage drinking."

Louisiana's program was nationally recognized three months ago when NJC issued awards to the team of nonprofits and local officials who originally implemented the program. Aguirre said she was impressed by the quality of the program's high school mentors and was surprised to see government officials working directly with the students.

"There was just no way we could fail with the people on our team," said Saloom, who flew to Reno to accept the awards last October. "We had the best that Louisiana had to offer in alcohol education; it was just a matter of us putting together a program that would send the message in a proper fashion."

Meanwhile, Barth credits the student volunteers for Louisiana's success.

"There are no fresher faces, no smarter groups, nobody that's more receptive and appreciative than high school and middle school students," she said.

It Doesn't End Here

LHSC director James Champagne, who participated as one of "Courage to Live's" original team members, believes there is still work to be done. Since September 11, Champagne said law enforcement has become more focused on security, and he hopes that an emphasis will eventually shift to law education.

The program is already expanding in other ways. Louisiana's "Courage to Live" has splintered off into the existing programs of statewide non-profits.  Prevention groups like Louisiana Youth Prevention Services (LYPS) and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have adopted the "Courage to Live" curriculum for their broader programs.

According to Barth, although the program as a single entity was halted due to a lack of funding, it continues to grow through other organizations.

NJC, which was awarded the National Commission Against Drunk Driving Adjudication Award for its "Courage to Live" campaign, continues to provide training to state teams who would like to implement the program locally. At least 10 states are still using "Courage to Live" as a major weapon against underage drinking.

Aguirre said she has received so many requests for training that guidebooks are flying off the shelves. Before the campaign caught speed, NJC placed an order for 5,000 guidebooks, which has now been whittled away to the last 16 books.

"It's exciting to start something from your heart and watch it take off," Aguirre said. "It convinces me that one person can make a difference."


To learn more about "Courage to Live," go to
159 Burgin Parkway | Quincy, MA 02169
617-471-4445 | Fax 617-770-3339