In Buffalo County, 1 in 4 high school students report that they participate in underage drinking according to 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey data. Over half of high school students in Buffalo County have had at least one drink of alcohol. Almost 20% of Buffalo County students started drinking alcohol before the age of 13.
On December 13, 2016 seventh and eighth grade students at Cochrane-Fountain City Schools engaged in a mock trial presentation to dig deeper into the risk behaviors associated with underage drinking and social host laws. The mock trial was conducted as part of a collaboration between Buffalo/Pepin County Teen Court, Buffalo County Partnership Council, University of Wisconsin – Extension and Cochrane-Fountain City Schools.
During the mock, or fake, trial middle schools students observed a pretend teen court case based on real-life events in the life of a Buffalo County teenager. The “offender” in the case choose to drink beer with their friends in their own house with alcohol that was obtained from their parent’s refrigerator. After the first part of the hearing, middle school students were asked to be part of the teen court deliberation process. Students used a restorative justice process to decide the sanctions, or consequences, for the teen offender with possession of alcohol and underage drinking citations. The final part of the mock trial asked seventh and eighth grade students to consider the potential consequences (physical, emotional, developmental, financial and more) for drinking before 21 years of age.
The teen court panelists who facilitated the mock trial included: Deanna Wiersgalla, Laney Ruehmann, Kayla Kaczorowski, Emily Bork, Karen Scharlau, Maya Smith and Madison Tennant. Marie Ritscher, Pepin County 4-H Youth Development Agent played the role as the parent during the mock trial.
Parents received a letter after the mock trial learning experience. Annie Lisowski, Buffalo County 4-H Youth Development Educator, said of the effort, “I encourage parents to continue the conversation about the consequences of underage drinking and alcohol consumption at home with their children.” Initial feedback from school administration, students and teen panelists was that the mock trial was a learning experience and a valuable way to consider the implications of alcohol use as a juvenile.
To learn more about Buffalo/Pepin County Teen Court or the Buffalo County Partnership Council and youth development efforts like this one, visit the University of Wisconsin-Extension, Buffalo County webpage at http://buffalo.uwex.edu or find us on Facebook.