Guest Blog: Bernardine Ryan shares her experience delivering the Junior Cycle Alcohol Education Programme

Drinkaware Education Matters Blog

After completing the three-year alcohol education programme in Our Lady’s College, there is a noticeable difference in attitude to alcohol and underage drinking. The facts and figures relating to misuse among teenagers were frightening and sobering, to say the least. The information and resources led to a more knowledgeable, informed group of girls who are aware of the consequences both mentally and physically of the misuse of alcohol. The girls found it interesting that women experience different health risks from alcohol than men. Women’s bodies process alcohol differently resulting in higher concentrations of alcohol in their blood when drinking equal amounts of alcohol to men “is this true?” was the question raised the same day in science class. The idea of cross curricular learning was another valuable facet of the course.  

The programme has clear learning outcomes for each lesson and emphasises delaying the age of first drink and reducing alcohol harm. The 8 – 10 lessons of 40 minutes consist of diverse strategies and methodologies. It was interesting to see how many of the students wanted to stay safe and avoid alcohol until they felt they were emotionally able to take their first drink.  

How to say NO was one of the most interesting questions that arose from first year group work. “Well, it is illegal to drink under 18 anyway” another replied promptly. The methodologies and resources are excellent. The well laid out lesson plans and supporting resources are very effective and informative with clear learning intentions and success criteria. The students are given a voice and empowered with the relevant knowledge enhancing their social and emotional skills. The students had a folder for their handouts and happily brought the information home to their parents for discussion in the next class. The idea that the class discussion was going home was another positive outcome of the programme. All students participated in discussions enthusiastically proving the efficacy of the programme in enhancing communication skills and a necessary tool to resist and manage societal pressures surrounding alcohol. The plans for each year were extremely effective which aligned with the SPHE course, peer pressure, Self-esteem, Integrating and Belonging, to mention a few. The wellbeing of the student is an integral part of the junior cycle framework, and the AEP is part of our Wellbeing Policy. 

The link between Alcohol and different health problems raised awareness and ongoing discussions in the classroom. The reports available on national and international data were an integral part of the programme. Ireland is not the only country with a growing underage drinking problem. The information is age appropriate and one of the aims that the students really responded to was, the development of personal and social skills to encourage independent decision making about alcohol. Each lesson ends with a reflective learning sheet and a home task.  The parent workshop is a valuable resource and a vital support to the success of the programme. 

Bernardine Ryan, SPHE Wellbeing, Gaeilge and English teacher at Our Lady’s College, Galway City, a Voluntary Catholic Girls Secondary School 

Read more information on our alcohol education programme for junior cycle, register your interest for upcoming training events or read about the Maynooth University Programme Evaluation.

If you would like to speak to someone about our alcohol education programmes please email