Erin Ruden, a sophomore at Fort Dodge Senior High, was recognized by the Fort Dodge Community School District board Monday for advocating awareness of binge drinking in the community.
In December, Ruden wrote a paper for an English II research project, titled "The Fatal Effects of Underage Drinking." Ruden then took her findings to Mayor Matt Bemrich. Inspired by her advocacy, Bemrich made an official declaration, announcing Dec. 15 as Binge Drinking Awareness Day in Fort Dodge.
The declaration, signed Dec. 12, urges "our citizens to work together to educate students, parents, and citizens on the affects of binge drinking."
Superintendent Doug Van Zyl praised Ruden's efforts before the school board Monday.
"What I'm most proud of is that Erin actually decided to do something about it," he said. "We talk a lot about trying to teach kids to be an advocate for themselves, to go out and make a difference in the world. In this case, Erin took some steps in that direction."
Ruden's teacher, Andi Adams, explained the research project to the school board.
"It's a persuasive topic that they must take on," she said. "I try to push them in the direction of wanting to take a side or interest. As sophomores, they're really not used to doing that. They have this essential question, they have to get information, providing information for both sides, and then see what argument is stronger."
The project was enlightening for Ruden, Adams said. Originally, her topic was that the drinking age should be lowered to 18.
"As I started research, I changed my view on it completely," Ruden said.
In her paper, Ruden wrote on the impact that underage drinking has on teenagers, and argued why the drinking age should not be lowered.
"Many teenagers think it is fine to drink and that it will not affect them in any way. Teens think they are invincible. This is a false statement," she wrote. "The legal drinking age should not be changed to 18 because binge drinking rates would increase in younger kids, alcohol interferes with mental and physical development, and alcohol-related death rates would increase."
A part of the assignment for the students, Adams said, was to take the topics they had researched and actually do something about it.
"I threw them a curve ball, and said you need to take your topics and make a difference in the world with whatever it is you pick," she said.
Adams said Ruden didn't know how to do that at first, finally deciding to take her findings and argument to the mayor.
"I emailed him, and asked if I could make a proclamation," she said. "I went to the City Council meeting, and the proclamation was made."
Van Zyl described Ruden's efforts as exemplary.
"I think it's fantastic any time a student takes the initiative upon themselves to step out and try to help the community," he said. "It's a fantastic thing for her and our school district."
According to Van Zyl, the district's students are encouraged by the district to become active citizens.
"It's something we strive to do, to empower our kids to be able to make a difference and let them know that we're going to try and support them in that process," he said.
Contact Brandon L. Summers at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org