Why was Choices needed?
Celebrating "Schoolies" is a major social phenomenon in Australia, where thousands of young people converge on beachside holiday destinations to celebrate the end of their formal years of schooling and the transition from adolescence to young adulthood. Every year, Schoolies continues to attract significant media attention and public concern over its impact on both the young people involved and the communities near the Schoolies venues. It has been debated in the Australian Parliament, including a speech by Senator Sue Mackay (Tasmania) in 2002, and a 2009 press release from the Hon Nicola Roxon, MP, Minister for Health and Aging, encouraging parents to warn their teenagers about the risks of binge drinking during Schoolies. In 2012, despite specific Schoolies-specific warnings from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon Bob Carr, a number of tragic accidents marred the Schoolies celebrations at the Gold Coast Queensland and overseas, notably in Fiji, reinforcing the importance of the delivery of effective harm prevention strategies for Year 12 students before they go to Schoolies. The Whitsunday Schoolies event, based at Airlie Beach Queensland, regularly attracts thousands of school leavers from Central and North Queensland, and various strategies to minimise the harm for the region's Year 12 students during Schoolies have been implemented for many years.
Before the implementation of Choices in 1998, Year 12 students in the Central and North Queensland regions received the health, safety and legal messages concerned with safe partying during Schoolies in formal presentations from teachers, police officers, health workers and other community leaders, and often as part of the regular drug education program within the school. Although this style of delivery presented the facts to the students, it failed to engage them meaningfully, leaving the presenters feeling they had been less than effective in getting these important messages across to the students.
In 1999, CQUniversity was approached to collaborate on an applied theatre project, originally entitled What's the Hassle? and laterChoices, to capture the harm minimisation messages for safe partying in a format that would actively engage young people in Year 12. Choices uses a music theatre format of comic skits, songs and dances utilising popular culture references (such as to Glee, Dr Phil, and references to social media such as Facebook) interwoven with the key health, safety and legal messages to immediately engage young people with the issues they will be facing at their Schoolies celebrations.
The local Choices committee, made up of the student leaders ofChoices, CQUniversity faculty, representatives from the relevant Queensland State Government agencies and other community stakeholders meet regularly throughout the year to oversee the writing of the script, as well as plan and implement the performance tours of Choices to all Central and North Queensland high schools that form the main catchment area for the Whitsunday Schoolies event at Airlie Beach. In 2012 over 70% of students attending the Whitsunday Schoolies event at Airlie Beach had seen Choices before arriving at Schoolies.