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Vol. LVII, No. 12
June 17, 2005

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Students, Teachers Abroad Get Dose of Alcohol Science

In all his years teaching science, Jason Lazarow had never had an assignment quite like it: presenting alcohol research to a classroom of teenagers — in Poland. The students knew a little English, but Lazarow does not speak any Polish. Yet despite the language gap, Lazarow was not overly concerned about getting his message across. He used the universally appealing medium of science: eye-catching images, intriguing videos and fun experiments. And as he piqued the teens' interest in alcohol studies, Lazarow allowed the science to deliver an important health message about the consequences of underage drinking.

Lazarow is NIAAA's science education coordinator. He previously taught in Montgomery County, Md., and Philadelphia, his hometown. He now develops education and outreach programs to teach students K-12 about alcohol science.

Some of the Polish teens who heard Jason Lazarow (l) speak about NIAAA’s alcohol research; they are waving mini-replicas of the human brain that bear health messages and web links.

It was during a recent trip to showcase NIAAA resources at an international education conference in Warsaw that Lazarow volunteered to speak at three local schools. He met with youngsters 14 to 16 years old. And just as with audiences at home, the multimedia presentations about alcohol's impact on health soon elicited many questions. "I find students often have a real interest in science facts, especially if you can show them what we're finding through cutting-edge research," he said.

NIAAA's science education program covers a broad range of alcohol research, from investigations into fetal alcohol spectrum disorders to animal studies shedding light on alcohol's effects during adolescence and development. For some teens, understanding basic alcohol facts can be an eye-opening lesson in terms of their own health. Lazarow said, "The students hear what scientists know about alcohol's effects. There's an implicit prevention message presented through scientific discovery."

Lazarow's Poland visit was sponsored by the non-profit DANA Foundation, a New York-based group that promotes the benefits of brain research. Lazarow presented a workshop at the annual conference of the European League for Middle Level Education. He presented to teachers from London, Paris, Rome and Stockholm. Some came from as far away as Egypt and Qatar, including teachers from schools run by the Department of Defense for the families of military personnel stationed overseas.

Lazarow told the educators about two free supplemental curriculum kits for middle school science classes. The kits include CDs, slides, videos, games, quizzes and laboratory experiments. One curriculum is titled "Better Safe than Sorry." It was developed by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill supported by NIAAA. The other kit, called "Understanding Alcohol: Investigations into Biology and Behavior," is a product of the NIH Office of Science Education with whom Lazarow and other NIAAA staff collaborated. The curriculum recently received an NIH Plain Language Award.

Additional positive feedback continues to come in from teachers and students alike, and the DANA Foundation sponsored Lazarow on a second trip to Europe for a teacher workshop in Rome. As he continues to develop effective science education materials, Lazarow is considering going back to school himself — to brush up on his foreign languages.

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