By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Students at Niskayuna schools may be too young to drink, but they know firsthand how hard it is to stay coordinated after a couple of brews. Thanks to a donation from Niskayuna Community Action Program, or N-CAP, the students just have to snap on soft plastic eyewear called Fatal Vision Goggles to get an important safety reminder.
Health teacher Lonnie Halusic uses the goggles, which look like gym class safety equipment, to get her message across to students from fifth to twelfth grade. The glasses use what the manufacturer’s web site refers to as “special lens technology” to simulate the loss of coordination that comes with various levels of intoxication.
“It’s really just a way for them to kind of understand how alcohol changes your coordination and your ability to walk a straight line,” Halusic said. “We do a lot with field sobriety test activities, like walking a straight line.”
Older students usually receive a message about personal safety, especially during the prom season. Younger students learn how to advocate for themselves.
“Would you get into a car with somebody who was walking like this, with their coordination changed, their depth perception changed, being really unsteady on their feet?” Halusic said she asks her students.
Larry Gillooley, Niskayuna’s director of health, P.E., and athletics, demonstrated the eyewear’s effectiveness by strapping on a pair and attempting to walk heel-to-toe. “It’s very difficult to try walking in a straight line with the goggles on,” he said. “It throws off your balance and perception, so it’s a great tool. Without having to consume the alcohol, gives them an idea situation of what it would be like.”
As part of its alcohol abuse prevention effort, N-CAP also presented the district with an Alco-Sensor, a handheld wand that reacts to the presence of alcohol. District officials plan to use the sensor to prevent alcohol use at campus events, especially sports games and proms.
“We’ll have those to deter kids from coming on campus, or hopefully deter them from drinking period,” Gillooley said. “Once we detect, we call the parents. We don’t want kids getting back in their cars, and we don’t want them leaving campus.”
Until the recent donation, the district relied on a decade-old model that required students to blow into it if they were suspected of drinking. The new equipment is less obtrusive.
“Just as we saw a need, we thought, ‘What could we do to offer support to the police department and the schools?’”, said Denise Leader, N-CAP’s president. N-CAP recently won a grant for nearly $600,000 over five years to reduce alcohol and drug use and abuse in the Niskayuna community.
“This was something we offered up to the school and they were eager to have it,” she said.