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Stick to it: MHS students warn against underage drinking

According to a 2018 report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 60 percent of high school students nationally surveyed said that they drank alcohol and nearly 30 percent reported that someone gave it to them. In Milton, 67 percent of high school seniors reported having had a drink; 71 percent across the state of Vermont.

To raise awareness amongst youth and adults, Milton High School (MHS) students in the Milton Community Youth Coalition (MCYC) spearheaded a sticker campaign to caution against underage drinking.

“Obviously we hear a lot about the dangers of [drinking]. I think for me, it’s the effect of the consequences that we don’t actually realize,” said Megan Humphrey, a junior at MHS and the oldest in the MCYC group.

During the summer of 2019, Humphrey and fellow Milton students, Dilynn Martin, Emily Reinhardt and Tiana Randall, attended the Teen Institute, a summer camp organized by the Franklin County Caring Community with a focus on youth prevention work in schools and communities. Students attended workshops on communication skills, drugs and the brain, health and sexuality, and restorative justice, among other topics.

At the end of the retreat, the students created an action plan based on their training. One of their projects, in the works since last summer, was the Sticker Shock campaign.

In December, students descended on Frey Family Deli & Convenience in Milton to begin their campaign, sticking bright blue notices to boxes of beer and other popular alcoholic beverages. The stickers read: “Hey there, PLEASE keep this out of the hands of minors. Providing alcohol to people under 21 may result in fines up to $2,000 & 2 years in jail.”

Tabatha Kittson, Projects and Development Director at MCYC and advisor to the Sticker Shock campaign, explained that the idea behind the sticker is that it might help people stop and think before giving to a minor. “It takes the focus off of the scare tactics towards minors and puts it on adults,” said Kittson.

Her work in MCYC is about youth empowerment—”trying to bring the community together, but not with adults saying, ‘Do this, do that.’ It’s about the youth saying what they’re seeing and what they want,” she said.

Some students in the coalition connected with the group through personal experiences. Kittson recalled one student who dealt with the effects of underage use when his basketball team wasn’t able to play due to youth substance use.

“For him, this is really important because [basketball] is his passion and what brings him joy,” she said.

As the most senior member of the group, Megan Humphrey has taken on more leadership roles this year. Her resume reads like a grocery list of different extracurriculars, sports, clubs, and student council roles.

Humphrey is unwavering in her position, even when her peers don’t listen or laugh her off. “It’s kind of one of those things; if you can’t accept me for me, then don’t hang out with me,” said Humphrey. But while some remain skeptical, “everybody I’ve talked to has been really supportive, regardless if they’re in my immediate friend group or not,” she said.

It’s important to her that people understand the real consequences of giving alcohol to minors. “You can go to jail or you can pay a really big fine. It’s important for people to realize that this can hurt your life,” she said. “It’s becoming more real for me... I think as we learn more, it’s important to say, ‘Hey, just because it looks cool, doesn’t mean it’s that great.’ If you don’t learn at a young age of the effect it could have, it could damage you in the future.”

Jon Centabar, Investigator for the Vt. Department of Liquor Control, and MHS guidance counselor Matt Rector accompanied the crew to local stores in support of the student campaign. Rector, who has experience talking to the students about issues like alcohol and drug use in school, pointed to the Sticker Shock campaign as an example of student empowerment. “One thing we work on a lot in school is student voice. This is a great example of students using their voices in a really positive way to send a message to kids their age and a little bit older,” he said.

But finding and using your voice in high school can be intimidating, especially if it doesn’t seem like the cool thing to do. “It’s definitely hard to approach people and friends,” said Maeli Rutherford, a freshman at MHS and one of the newer members to MCYC; she hopes to attend the Teen Institute this summer. “You can only suggest things, you can’t control people. You can only do your best to help them see and understand the consequences,” she said.

Freshmen Tiana Randall and Emily Reinhardt were instrumental in brainstorming the idea for the sticker campaign. “I’ve gotten asked if I want to go over to somebody’s house and drink alcohol and smoke for recreational purposes. So I say no and I tell them it’s not the healthiest choice for them to do,” said LaRose. Like Rutherford, she finds that one of the best routes for raising awareness is to make suggestions.

While Humphrey is a little more at home in her leadership role, she agreed that making upbeat, even passive suggestions is a good way to tackle the topic with peers. “You don’t want to overload them [with information]. Or they’re going to get bored and not listen to you,” agreed Humphrey. “I give them bits and pieces... The more I do it, the more they hear it.” Similar to the sticker idea—she hopes that something will eventually stick.

“I mean, teenagers will be teenagers. You’re going to try things in your life, it’s understandable. But there are risks and there are consequences that you don’t realize when you do it.”

Town proposes expanding sewer to Colchester

A group of Colchester landowners and the town of Milton have joined forces to work on extending Milton’s sewer system across the town line into Colchester.

Town manager Don Turner presented the project to the Colchester selectboard at a meeting on Dec. 10, 2019, emphasizing the two towns’ history of working together and sharing resources.

“No matter how this goes with this project, we want to continue this relationship,” Turner told the board during his presentation. However, should the Colchester selectboard choose to not support sewer extension, Turner noted that the project would not move forward.

According to Turner, Milton’s sewer plant currently does not operate at optimum capacity, costing users some of the highest rates in the county. The plant was built in 2006 to handle a capacity of one million gallons per day but currently operates at about 30 percent of that.

“We are desperately in need of users. We have capacity that we need to use. The plant is inefficient and it’s definitely not working the way we wanted,” said Turner. “We’re lucky to have a lot of capacity, many towns don’t have enough... But we aren’t even halfway to current capacity. Some people are paying heavily for it.”

The proposal to extend sewer was sparked when three Colchester landowners close to the town line began the process of land development, expressing their disappointment that a municipal sewer was unavailable yet only a mile away in Milton.

In the project proposal letter to the selectboard, Principal Engineer John Pitrowiski recalled bringing the inconvenience to Turner, who, “expressed an interest in the concept of adding users to Milton’s sewer system as the plant is currently not operating at optimum capacity.”

Turner told the selectboard that in addition to aiding Milton’s need for more users, the sewer expansion could catalyze growth opportunities for Colchester and solve the problem of aging wastewater systems. “A municipal option would be very attractive to other entities along route,” he said.

According to Turner, the private landowners would pay all of the costs for extending sewer service into Colchester and the town would pay for legal and permitting fees accrued. A portion of the line would be forced main south of Exit 17, moving to gravity to the sewer plant.

While initial meetings with the Vt. Agency of Transportation (VTrans), the Act 250 District Coordinator, and the Regional Planning Commission regarding the project have gone well, Turner noted that, considering the history of pushback between Milton and the Conservation Law Foundation, the project may see some obstacles ahead.

Selectboard member Herb Downing questioned what Milton would do if Colchester rejected the sewer expansion. “[We’ll] continue to be creative and look at other alternatives,” answered Turner. “We’re not going forward unless Colchester is on board. Without your blessing and support it doesn’t matter.”