Norwood High and Xavier students put their heads together to study, combat underage drinking

'Design thinking' applied to work the problem
Norwood High and Xavier students put their heads together to study, combat underage drinking
Posted at 8:00 AM, Mar 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-05 08:00:28-05

NORWOOD, Ohio -- Norwood High School and Xavier University students are working together to combat underage drinking in the city.

Over the next two months, Norwood students in the Avenues for Success after-school program will work with Tom Merrill, director of the Center for Innovation, and his students in a design thinking class to answer the question: How might we prevent underage drinking? The partnership came about thanks to the Norwood Drug Coalition.

About 10 percent of Norwood students in grades 7 through 12 reported using alcohol within 30 days of a 2016 student drug abuse survey done by PreventionFIRST! The annual survey, which 61 percent of Norwood middle and high school students completed, found they were slightly less likely than students in Hamilton County as a whole to have used alcohol within the previous 30 days.

The percentage of teens reporting recent alcohol use was on par with the national average. However, by 2020, the Norwood Drug Coalition wants to reduce the percentage of teens reporting recent alcohol use to just 1 percent.

That's where Xavier and design thinking come in.

Design thinking is a creative problem-solving strategy that involves intensive interviews and brainstorming with a focus on empathy and understanding. The coalition used design thinking last year and found it helped them ask the right questions and focus on the right issues, organizer Angela Pancella said.

"By spending more time on planning and design, and by using powerful tools to encourage creativity, you get better results," she said.

Merrill has his design thinking class each year help a local nonprofit organization, such as the Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, tackle a problem. This semester, they're spending time in the Norwood High School library to consider underage drinking.

Xavier University professor Tom Merrill discusses the design thinking process with Norwood High School students. For the Norwood Drug Coalition, Merrill's students from Xavier will mentor the Norwood students through the process to come up with a new strategy to combat underage drinking.

"This class has definitely given me an opportunity to see life other than on the Xavier campus," said Andrew Haley, a Xavier senior.

The coalition chose to have teens create the prevention strategies, because peer disapproval is a strong prevention force -- and one that's rising in Norwood, according to the PreventionFIRST! survey. Having Xavier students mentoring the high-schoolers through the process is an added bonus.

"The process itself is a prevention strategy, whether or not the students realize it," Pancella said. "It can also function as a prevention strategy for the Xavier students. If they have high school students who are looking up to them, they may be inspired to be on their best behavior."

Meeting on March 1, the Xavier students walked the Norwood teens through the steps of the design thinking process.

"It's a linear process, but you can move forward and backward (through the steps) on a project," Xavier senior Spencer Pupp explained.

The first step is developing questions for "empathy interviews," in-depth interviews with key stakeholders. So, in this project, the Xavier students began by helping the Norwood teens come up with open-ended questions for their peers about underage drinking, and also just generally what they're doing between 3 and 6 p.m. That timeframe is when teens are most likely to drink.

Bailey Bamonti, a junior at Norwood High School, said she normally would be spending that time at practice for the Norwood Silhouettes, the school's show choir, or doing homework or reading. She volunteered for the anti-drinking campaign.

"Both sides of my family have alcohol and drug abuse," Bamonti said.

Another Norwood junior, Janelly Zacarias, usually would be at Norwood View Elementary School in the afternoons, acting as an interpreter for students whose first language is Spanish.

"This seemed like a good opportunity," Zacarias said. "I like helping the community."

Bamonti, Zacarias and the other teens in the Avenues for Success program will interview their peers and sort through the results with the Xavier students, mining them for possible answers to the question: How might we prevent underage drinking?

Whatever strategy the Xavier and Norwood students come up with will join the Norwood Drug Coalition's arsenal of tactics to combat underage drinking. The coalition has worked to strengthen the city's laws against underage drinking, holding property owners accountable.

Peer campaigns against underage drinking also will continue, along with a social-media campaign aimed at adults, making them more aware of their drinking and how that example affects teens around them.

"We also know that most substance use begins with alcohol," said Deb Robison, family and children first coordinator for Norwood School District. "There is much talk about stemming the heroin crisis. Perhaps the most important way to impact that long term is to create strong healthy young people who do not readily turn to alcohol."