Talk to teens about underage drinking

Editor, Times-Dispatch:

First thoughts of back to college season typically involve endless trips to Ikea and Target where dorm room accoutrements are agonized over and purchased. The days and weeks before classes start also should include conversations about alcohol and the risks associated with underage drinking.

Underage drinking carries significant risks far beyond its illegality. The first six weeks of a student’s first year in college are a vulnerable time for harmful and underage college drinking and alcohol-related consequences because of student expectations and social pressures at the start of the academic year. Relationships and patterns of behavior are established early, and students should start the year on solid footing for success.

Talking to college-bound students about making wise decisions is a critical part of prevention. Parents can learn more about starting these conversations by accessing Responsibility.org’s new resource, “Parents, You’re Not Done Yet,” developed to facilitate communications between parents and students, to inform everyone of the risks involved with underage drinking, to coordinate refusal strategies, and to raise awareness for these students as they become more independent.

The good news, according to the Monitoring the Future study published last week, is that drinking among college students is declining; moreover, from 2017 to 2018 there has been a statistically significant decline in binge-drinking, bringing it to an all-time low.

Conversations are the key to keeping these numbers going in the right direction. For more information about preventing underage drinking in college, visit http://go-faar.org/PYNDY.

Benjamin R. Nordstrom.

Executive Director,Responsibility.org.

Henrico has high standard

for school bus drivers

Editor, Times-Dispatch:

Correspondent James W. Jay wrote, “The criteria required to become a substitute school bus driver is minimal.” This statement is patently false. The Code of Virginia 22.1-178 defines requirements for people employed to drive school buses, and those requirements apply to both full-time and substitute drivers. They all must possess a commercial driver’s license (CDL), pass an annual physical, maintain a good driving record, pass a drug/alcohol screen and be subject to random drug/alcohol testing. Our children are just as safe when riding with a substitute driver as with a full-time driver.

The shortage of school bus drivers is real, especially in larger Virginia localities employing more than 200 drivers. In Henrico County, we refuse to compromise our standards, and exceed the Virginia training requirement of 30 hours for candidates who have not earned their CDL. Most of our trainees spend 60 to 70 hours in our training program (classroom and behind the wheel) before they drive a school bus solo with students on board.

The correspondent also suggested making school bus drivers full-time employees with benefits. That is standard practice in this area. Henrico County pays a minimum of $14.61 per hour for full-time drivers, plus benefits such as health insurance, sick leave, and Virginia Retirement System pension plan. They can earn extra pay driving for field and athletic trips or in support of summer programs. Most other RVA localities offer similar pay and benefits.

School bus drivers are public servants and a cornerstone of our community. Their pay is modest, and the position is not as attractive when the local economy is booming and CDL drivers are in high demand. Just like teachers and police officers, they deserve higher pay. Henrico will continue to lead the way in advocating for resources to improve the compensation for all our critical community servants.

Josh Davis.

Director of Pupil Transportation,Henrico County Public Schools.

Natural gas a clean,

affordable energy source

Editor, Times-Dispatch:

I am glad that health care professionals in the state have joined together to call for action to address climate change, as noted in a recent Letter to the Editor, “Health care professionals urge climate change action.” I hope this group, however, will not advocate against natural gas. New research indicates moving away from coal has saved the lives of thousands of low-income Americans.

When energy prices are high, people turn down the thermostat or turn off their heat altogether. Particularly in households with senior citizens, this action can be deadly. Natural gas is a cheap source of electricity, which is why, according to “Inexpensive Heating Reduces Winter Mortality” by the National Bureau of Economic Research, every winter 11,000 lives have been saved.

The only way to keep gas affordable is to keep it plentiful and that means allowing for increased production and distribution via pipelines. We must tackle climate change, but we also have to think about how we heat our homes. Natural gas provides a safe, clean and affordable alternative to coal.

Miranda Melvin.

Richmond.

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