Alcohol Education for High Schools Students Goes Online
By Meghan Mandeville, News Research Reporter

Samantha Williams knows that kids in her high school drink.

"I do see a lot of it and I do think it's a problem," said Williams, who, like the rest of her freshmen class, took AlcoholEdu for High School, an online prevention course, during a health seminar at Episcopal Academy in Merion, Pennsylvania.  The program's goal is to let teens know the facts about drinking.   

"We've got a lot of bad information out there and we've also got this cultural mindset that it's OK to drink and it's OK to drink heavily," said Brandon Busteed, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and founder of Outside The Classroom, the company that developed the program.  "We know that the average age for the first drink is 12-and-a-half to 13-years-old," he added.  "These are just major, major problems."

Four years ago, Busteed's small Massachusetts-based company created AlcoholEdu, which was originally designed for colleges and universities.  The latest version, AlcoholEdu for High School, is an attempt to educate younger students about the dangers of alcohol early on in their high school careers.

Developed in collaboration with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), AlcoholEdu for High School consists of three, 30-minute segments, which teach students about the dangers of alcohol and the importance of healthy decision-making.  The different parts of the course cover blackouts, hangovers and drinking and driving.  The students can also use an interactive Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Calculator, which, by entering their weight, height and sex, can help them to figure out how high their blood alcohol level would be after a certain amount of drinks.

According to Busteed, all of the information the course conveys is "non-opinionated and science-based" and primarily focuses on alcohol's effects on the mind and body.

"Some of the key learning pieces in the course, some of the highest-rated content, is around how alcohol affects learning and memory.  That is probably some of the newest science in the field," Busteed said.  "This is pretty relevant to students who are being measured on grade performance [and] athletic performance.  For them to be competitive, one of the things that they should be avoiding is alcohol." 

But, despite its dangers, high school students are not steering clear of alcohol.  In fact, it's just the opposite. According to the Center for Disease Control, 78.2 percent of students in the U.S. have tried alcohol, making AlcoholEdu an important tool for educators who want to provide their students with factual information about drinking and decrease their use of alcohol.

A Tool for Schools

"Schools are always looking to do more to combat that problem," said Pat Faherty, Principal of Suffern High School in Suffern, New York.  "No matter what we're doing, it's a battle we don't seem to be winning."

Suffern, along with Episcopal Academy, is one of five high schools in the country that piloted the AlcoholEdu for High School program, which is now available to high schools nationwide.  According to Faherty, it's a valuable course that he plans to give to freshmen each year, when they first enter high school.

"Once they start their high school careers, especially in the fall, we have the football games and the parties and the socialization -- a lot of them [are] getting invited to high school parties for the first time," Faherty said.  "We want to [give them the course] as soon as possible."

Educating students at Suffern about the dangers of alcohol is a priority that hits close to home for many at the school after 17-year-old senior Emily Bushkin was killed in an alcohol-related car crash during the fall of 2001.  The young student-athlete's death is solemn proof of the need for increased alcohol education for high-schoolers.

"You know what that does to a school?" said Faherty about Bushkin's death.  "You go through a lot of soul searching.  [Alcohol] is the number one risk behavior our students are involved in. [AlcoholEdu] is just one more tool that we can use in our arsenal."

At Outside The Classroom, Busteed hopes that schools throughout the U.S. will start stocking their alcohol prevention arsenals with AlcoholEdu for High School.  Given the success that colleges have had in combating drinking with the original course, Busteed believes that it can be an effective way for high schools to nip drinking in the bud before it gets out of control.

Hitting the Whole Student Body

The key to the program, for both colleges and high schools, is its capability of reaching whole populations of students rather than just a few here and there.

"We don't believe the success of [the course] is in just giving it to handful of students," Busteed said.  "The course works best on a population level.  That is the only level at which we can expect substantial cultural change."

As a web-based program, AlcoholEdu has the power to effect such change, according to Busteed.

"With the power of the Internet, we can expose an infinite number of students to the program," Busteed said.  "This is the type of program that could go national overnight."

Also, Busteed explained, if an entire freshmen class is taking the course, students are more likely to talk about it with each other.  And, he said, they are more likely to discuss the issue of drinking with their parents, who are an important part of the prevention effort.

Aside from mass-dispersion, which creates opportunities for discussion, the online format of the course allows each student to have a unique experience with AlcoholEdu, where they are not concerned with what other students will think about their answers to certain questions.

"The advantage to this [format], again being an online [format] where every student can take it and every student can have a personalized experience is really the most important part," Busteed said.

Spreading the Word about AlcoholEdu

While distributing AlcoholEdu to students is easy, getting the word about the program out to schools is a bit more difficult, especially for a small company like Outside The Classroom.  That is why it teamed up with MADD, a national organization with a strong reputation.

"We're primarily working with MADD to get this program into schools across the country," said Busteed.  "Right now we've got about six schools that have kicked off with it and we're anticipating probably a couple of hundred more by the end of this fall."

According to MADD National President Wendy Hamilton, the organization is happy to help Outside The Classroom promote AlcoholEdu, a course that MADD believes has much merit.

"We're very excited about it and think that it has tremendous possibilities in helping to educate young people about the dangers of underage drinking because it can reach so many people at one time," Hamilton said.  "The end result is that [kids] are going to learn something from it and start to make smarter choices about their own health and safety."


To learn more about AlcoholEdu for High School, go to or contact Jamie Prestileo at (877) 338-5001 ext. 233

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