For three straight days last spring, Patricia Harris, who heads the youth and alcohol program for Prince George's County, talked to nearly every one of the 2,900 students at Bowie High School about the consequences of heavy drinking.
They watched films, asked questions and listened to the story of a 19-year-old girl recovering from alcoholism. They met in large assemblies and small groups. Several phoned Harris at her office after the workshop to talk about the problem.
The three-day program, everybody agreed, went well.
But within three months, three members of Bowie High's 1980' graduating class had died in alcohol-related traffic accidents.
"The last thing I remember telling them at graduation rehearsal was to be careful driving," said Hohn Hagan, Bowie's principal.
A 1978 survey by the state Drug Abuse Adminstration estimated that more than two-thirds of all Maryland eighth graders and 87.4 percent of the 12th graders have used and plan to continue using alcohol.
The percentage of Prince George's students who drink alcohol was slightly higher than the state figure. Currently, some county officials estimate, about 8,000 Prince George's teen-agers are heavy drinkers. Harris disagrees with the figure, which she believes is far too low.
The most recent Montgomery figures were compiled in 1972 by the county school system. At that time, 28 percent of the junior high and 61 percent of the senior high students drank alcohol on a month.
Many teen-agers in both counties do much of their drinking in school and shopping-center parking lots. One recent Thursday night, three young men gathered around a Toyota in the Cabin John Mall parking lot in Potomac. They are what parents might call clean-cut: short hair, clean T-shirts and blue jeans.
They talked and smoked cigarettes as they each "put down a few cold ones." Each is 18, and has been coming to the lot for years.
"We used to come here, or to Walter Johnson (High School) or to Piney Branch every night and do some really wild things," said Bill referring to other parking lots where his friends frequently meet. "Now we're older. We just fly out of control one or two times a month. That's cool."
It was a real "trip" to buy beer for the first time without being carded, they recalled nostalgically. Each was 15 when that happened.
"Usually we just sat outside (a liquor store) and asked someone to go in and buy us a few six-packs," Russ said matter-of-factly, "though sometimes I would pull out a bottle of Chivas Regal from a case my father had. That was wild -- getting drunk on 21-year-old Scotch."
All three have been in car accidents while drunk.
"Sure, I'm worried about dying, now that I think about it," said Russ. "But' when I'm drunk, I don't think of that. I'm just as likely to be egging on my buddy to drive faster."
"The police come and just tell you to go home," said Bill. "If you don't have long hair, they don't give you a hard time.
"We're not hippies," he laughed. "We're just good all-American boys."
"We go to parties when we hear about them," said Kenny, as he mentioned other places he and his friends often drink. "Twenty-keg parties out in Potomac -- those are the best. Sometimes kids hand out flyers, but usually you just hear about them word-of-mouth.
Kenny mentioned a major reason for drinking: to escape from what he sees as the dull routine of his life. "High school is a drag," he said. "Same classes, same lunch period. It gets so monotonous."
What many of their friends do to cope with the boredom is smoke marijuana or drink beer at lunch and before school. "It's easy to smoke a bowl (of marijuana)," he added. "It only takes five minutes, but guzzling down a six-pack really can take some time."
One teacher at Bethesda's Walt Whitman High commented, "Sure, we know kids are drinking before school. There are beer bottles all over the parking lot. You think teachers leave them there?
Anyhow," she added, we're talking about Heineken bottles, and most of the teachers I know can only afford to drink Budweiser."
Mike, a Whitman graduate who has been sober since last September, recalled, "In 10th and 11th grade, I'd drink eight ounces of whiskey at lunch and then go back into school. We played sports, we went shopping, we went to restaurants, we did what any normal kid did -- but we just did it drunk.
"We skipped whole days of school, half days of school. No one ever caught us, or ever cared," he said.
The Whitman teacher explained, "You call a parent when his son is drunk and, half the time, the parent gets belligerent. If you really wanted to stop (the) drinking on school grounds, you'd need parking-lot guards and bathroom guards and a principal to head up a vigilante team.
"Teachers don't want to be policemen and parents don't want them to be," she added. "Anyhow, sometimes they (teachers) have drinking problems of their own."
That teachers also sometimes abuse alcohol is borne out by Pam, an attractive Montgomery junior high teacher.
Pam's drinking had more to do with her unhappy marriage than with her job, she stressed. For five years she drank heavily and took Librium three times daily.
When she finally went to Alcoholics Anonymous, she says, she met plenty of other teachers there.
"Teaching is not conducive to drinking, really," she laughed. "There's no place to booze up at lunch and there's no chance to close your door during the day and drink. I would never drink at work, but I would drink every night."
Although she never missed work because of her drinking problem, she knows now that it affected her teaching.
"I would wake up every morning tired and irritable and sometimes hung over," she said. "I was always mildly depressed and had a terrible temper."
Pam finally was referred to AA and taken off tranquilizers by a psychiatrist.
She also went to the school system's employe-assistance program, designed to help staff members with alcohol abuse and other personal problems. They arranged a teacher's aide assignment for her at another school while she went through rehabilitation.
"Our program works well," said Mimi Cameron, the employe-assistance director. "People who have used us often recommend us to their friends, which I see as a sure sign of credibility.
"There's an (official) attitude by many, though, that employe assistance is a frill, a fringe benefit," she said.
"Everyone, including us, agrees that our primary focus is on programs that have an impact on the student. But do you think school bus drivers are immune from alcoholism?" she asked.
"Or that if a teacher's husband is an alcoholic, that won't have an impact on how she teaches her kids?"
Pam frequently brings up the dangers of excessive drinking in class, without discussing her own past habits.
"When there's a car accident that was caused by drunk driving, I'll always talk about it the next day," she said. "And I try to get them to think of the consequences.
"A kid could have totaled his car on a Saturday," she continued. "When I bring it up on Monday, no one pays attention. They all think I'm hopelessly square."