SMITH: Underage drinking a problem across country, including Mitchell

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Based on talk in the hallways of Mitchell High School, it's safe to conclude underage drinking is an issue.

According to national statistics, approximately one in four high school students has consumed alcohol in the past month. And it seems just as common here in Mitchell.

In South Dakota, drinking alcohol is illegal until the age of 21. Alcohol interferes with the brain, being a detriment to cognitive thinking, decision making, coordination and, in the case of teenagers, brain development.

"Research and statistics continues to show the high risks our youth incur for their decision to drink," said Mitchell's School Resource Officer Pat Oleson. "What people don't acknowledge is that underage drinking does not affect just one person but many including friends, family, unborn babies and innocent bystanders."

The law enforcement community of Mitchell enforce the underage drinking violation laws at all times. These violations include underage consumption/possession of alcohol, underage purchase of alcohol, false identification for obtaining alcohol, drunk driving, etc.

In the Mitchell area, law enforcers maintain a no-tolerance mentality in dealing with underage drinking, and in 2017, there were 87 underage consumption/possession arrests.

For students involved in activities, underage alcohol consumption not only violates the law, but also violates the MHS code of conduct. Extracurricular participation is based on a point system; each activity has a certain amount of points in accordance to the number of events per season.

"It essentially becomes a weighted system so that the suspension in an activity that has five events a year is handled differently than an activity that has 20 events a year," said Activities Director Cory Aadland.

Aadland said the first violation for alcohol consumption results in a five-point suspension (approximately 25 percent of a season), a second violation results in a 10-point suspension (approximately 50 percent of a season) and a third violation results in a 12-month suspension.

Despite these consequences in place, students continue to drink.

"Each student has their own story as to why they decide to take risks. I've heard stories of peer pressure, dysfunctional home life, experimentation, an 'everyone's doing it' mentality and parents who show indifference or show no restraint in their own daily usage," Oleson said.

The Mitchell School District and city of Mitchell do what they can to combat underage drinking. MHS has a school-sanctioned after prom for students to have a fun, safe and alcohol-free evening into the late hours of the night. And the MHS group SPOOFED dedicates their efforts to encourage students to make safe and better life decisions, including decisions involving alcohol consumption.

Punishments in place, such as the activity point system, do help to deter students from drinking. "We hold our students who participate in extracurricular activities to a higher standard as they are representatives of our school district and our entire community. I think our students take great pride in their participation in our extracurricular activities and value their ability to participate in those events," Aadland said.

As a student at MHS, it is evident that students in our school are drinking underage. Talk about the upcoming party or gossip from the latest wrongdoing are impossible to ignore. But this doesn't discourage school officials from continuing their efforts to help and encourage teenagers to make better decisions.

"We are working with young adults who, like all of us, will make mistakes," Aadland said. "The focus then becomes on how the student handles that mistake, takes responsibility for their actions and learns from it."