Students from the S.A.F.E. Coalition at Plymouth Whitemarsh School and Germantown Academy work together with the Whitemarsh Police Department to develop campaigns to educate their fellow students on the laws of their personal conduct that could lead to long-term consequences.

By Sue Ann Rybak

For the second year in a row, the Whitemarsh Township Police Department received a $15,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to aid in the campaign against underage drinking.

Funds from the grant support proactive patrols and target the illegal use and sales of alcohol to minors. They also support a new awareness and educational program.

“As a partner in the effort to prevent underage, binge and problematic drinking, we provide funds to local organizations committed to making a significant difference in their community,” said Patrick J. “PJ” Stapleton III, PLCB chairman, in a statement. “At a time when public funds are stretched thinner than ever, we know these grant awards will go a long way towards improving the health and safety of communities across the commonwealth.”

“Alcohol is the most commonly used drug among young people, according to a recent study released by the Centers for Disease Control,” said Jerry Waters Sr., director of the PLCB’s Office of Regulatory Affairs. “We know underage drinking has a tremendous impact on youth, families and communities throughout Pennsylvania, and we are committed to providing the resources necessary to help children make better choices.”

“The enforcement and education grant will allow our community to work together to address these serious issues, which will ultimately ensure the safety of our teenagers and young adults, said Sgt. Francis Wheatley, of the Whitemarsh police.

He said that the police department first found out about the grant two years ago in an effort to prevent teenage deaths related to drinking and driving. A new grassroots initiative was formed in 2010.

The Whitemarsh Police Department, in cooperation with Plymouth Whitemarsh High School and Germantown Academy, established a new student-based partnership called the S.A.F.E Coalition, which stands for Student Awareness Forum and Education.

The mission of the S.A.F.E. Coalition allows students from both schools to brainstorm strategies for combating high-risk behavior by creating innovative awareness programs, public service announcements, and a partnership between police departments, local businesses and community representatives.

Over the last several years the Whitemarsh police have been working closely with the local chapter of Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School. This partnership has allowed high school students to have a voice and work closely with school counselors and law enforcement officials to development awareness programs and Public Service Announcements that target the decision-making process of teens when it comes to high-risk behaviors.

Amanda Logan, a senior at Germantown Academy and president of the Plymouth Whitemarsh Germantown Academy S.A.F.E. Coalition, joined the club at Germantown Academy because she wanted “to draw attention to the importance of educating classmates about this stuff.”

Currently, PWGA’s S.A.F.E. Coalition has seven members.

“We held several assemblies this year on the consequences of underage drinking and texting while driving,” Logan said. “The club has raised awareness about the consequences of underage drinking.”

Recently, the S.A.F.E. Coalition produced it first PSA in cooperation with the Colonial School District, which is now airing on Colonial TV (CTV) and on the Whitemarsh Township’s cable channel.  Kim Newell, CTV director, played a pivotal role in developing and producing the Underage Drinking Awareness PSA Video, utilizing students from the S.A.F.E Coalition, PWHS’s SADD Chapter and officers from the Whitemarsh Police Department.

“As a result of these new collaborations, the Whitemarsh Police Department have begun to see a decrease in underage drinking violations that we believe is directly related to airing the PSA/ Underage Drinking Awareness Campaign in the high schools,” Wheatley said.

“We have also seen the number of underage drinking arrests at high school sporting events reduced dramatically with the airing of the PSA campaign,” he said. “The high schools student’s awareness of the collaboration between the Whitemarsh Police Department and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Broad was an effective prevention tool that relayed a strong message of zero tolerance regarding underage drinking violations at school function.”

The S.A.F.E. coalition’s goals include creating a community-based dialogue about the problem of hazardous decision-making and its consequences, creating programming and literature for area students, developing a mentoring program between high school and middle school students where student concerns about destructive decision making can be addressed in a safe environment, and reaching out to local businesses and officials to disseminate information about the danger of high-risk behavior among the teen demographic and the local community.