Sunday, April 19, 2009

Consequences to be put on display

EVERLY—Someone dies as a result of an alcohol-related collision every 15 minutes, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Students at Clay Central-Everly High School will have a firsthand experience of what that feels like next week when they participate in Every 15 Minutes, a nationally known program that is designed to dramatically instill teenagers with the potentially fatal consequences of drinking alcohol.

The program will begin Wednesday, April 22.

"The students will be in normal class, but there will be some publicity around the building about how many drivers are killed as a result of drunk driving crashes," said English teacher Shaley Cullen, who helped organize the event. "Some body outlines will be drawn and there will be a crime scene around the building that will hopefully pique their interest."

If that's not enough, the "Grim Reaper" will appear, calling on a different student every 15 minutes.

After the student is removed from class, a police officer will immediately enter the classroom and read an obituary and explain the circumstances of the student's death. A few minutes later, the student will return to class with his or her face covered in white face paint and wearing a coroner's tag and a black Every 15 Minutes T-shirt.

From that point, the victims will not be allowed to speak or interact with other students for the remainder of the day.

"Those students are then sequestered overnight," Cullen said. "They won't be going home to their families."

Instead, the students will stay at the school overnight and write a letter to their families as if they were dead. Their parents also will be asked to take the time to write them a letter.

"We're trying to help the students understand what it would be like, to make it real for them," Cullen said.

To make it even more real, the victimized students will visit the Clay County Jail in Spencer and undergo special training with some of the tools police officers use. They also will have a chance to wear a pair of fatal vision goggles, so they receive the full understanding of what it feels like to be impaired. 

The following day, the victims, along with some other students, will participate in a special skit for the entire student body at 1 p.m. The public is also welcome to attend.

Starting with the students together at a party, the skit culminates when four of them leave together after they have been drinking.

The skit then will cut away to a video of the students in a car crash, being taken to Spencer Hospital and one of them being arrested, taken to jail and sentenced.

The students were not the only ones involved in the production of the video.

"The parents were also involved," Cullen said. "It was obviously a very mocked up situation and the parents are not actors at all, so they were very concerned about how to portray being upset."

So, they asked Cullen, who also is the high school large group speech coach, for acting tips.

"I said, 'I don't think you'll need any help. Just think about it,'" Cullen said. "It's very shocking how the parents cried real tears and were very disturbed by it. They said it had been one of the most moving experiences they had ever had."

Cullen is hopeful the impact she and the parents experienced during the videotaping also will reach the students as they watch the video, especially as the high school prom will be held that Saturday.

"I hope they make good choices on prom night," Cullen said. "Typically, students suspend their common sense a little bit and make choices they might otherwise not make during prom. By putting on this program next week, we're really hoping students will choose not to get in the car with someone who has been drinking and certainly not get behind the wheel."

While Clay Central-Everly High School English teacher Shaley Cullen has been very involved in the making the Every 15 Minutes program a reality next week, she said much credit is due to Clay County deputy Dennis Linn, the school resource officer.

"The whole program is really his brainchild," Cullen said. "He organized all of the different entities, whether that be the fire department or the ambulance."

However, the deputy has received some flak from parents.

"He had some parents say, 'Aren't you teaching them how to be designated drivers?'" Cullen said. "He said, 'No, I'm not. I don't want them to drink at all, but the truth is, they need to know what it's like to go out on a scene of someone who has died as the result of a drunk driver.'"

While it is a situation Linn has had to experience many times, it still is painful for him, and Cullen said his hope is that if students see what it is like on the scene, they would not make the decisions they make.

"The students that have been involved have said, 'This changes how I look at drinking and driving,'" Cullen said. "They all know it's a bad idea, but we just want to bring it to the forefront of people's thought process. Hopefully, it will make a difference."

This article appeared in the April 18, 2009 edition of The N'West Iowa REVIEW.

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