The Grim Reaper will visit a Westlake High School classroom every 15 minutes on Thursday, April 11, leaving behind a “living dead” student who silently reminds classmates of the consequences of drinking or texting while driving.
The Westlake Student Government Safe Driving Task Force is participating in the National Every 15 Minutes program on April 11 and 12, which includes a mock automobile accident, the removal by the Grim Reaper of 25 preselected students from classrooms and a post-school trial of the “drunk” driver who caused the morning accident. Sponsored and coordinated by the Waldorf Volunteer Fire Department (WVFD), Every 15 Minutes is a national two-day program that encourages students to think about personal safety when driving, especially when alcohol or texting are involved. The program challenges students to recognize how actions can affect their life and the lives of others.
Traffic collisions are the leading cause of death among teen-age youth, said Guy Yesse, event coordinator and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) captain with the WVFD. The program goal, which is geared toward eleventh- and twelfth-grade students, is to educate teens through realistic experiences that simulate the magnitude of tragedies caused by drunk driving and texting while driving, Yesse said.
“Living dead” students will be taken from class on Thursday, made up to look like corpses, and returned to class as silent reminders that Every 15 Minutes someone is killed or seriously injured in an alcohol-related incident. Students must remain in character for the remainder of the school day and they may not speak or interact with other students. A School Resource Officer will enter the student's classroom and read an obituary prepared by the student's parents. Simultaneously, uniformed officers will make mock death notifications to the parents of these children at their home, place of employment or business. Additionally, sheriff's officers will transport the driver of the car to the Charles County Sheriff's Office to be processed like an actual offender.
A simulated traffic accident will occur in the front of the school at 9:30 a.m. on April 11. Rescue workers will treat “injured” students who will experience the sensation of being involved in a tragic, alcohol-related driving collision. Members of the WVFD will handle fatalities on the scene while firefighters and paramedics remove the injured students with jaws-of-life tools. A Medevac Helicopter will land across from the school and be used to simulate a fly-out of an injured student. Student participants will continue their experience after school at the Charles County Courthouse for a mock trial of the “drunk driver” who caused the morning accident.
At the end of the day, students who participated in the staged accident as well as those who were made-up as the “living dead” will be taken to Camp Merrick in Nanjemoy for an overnight retreat. The retreat will simulate the separation from friends and family. A support staff of counselors and staff from Westlake as well as members of the WVFD will facilitate the retreat.
Students will work on a presentation to be given at Westlake on April 12 when they are “brought back to life.” The focus of the assembly stresses that the decision to consume alcohol can affect many more people than just the one who drinks and the dangers of texting while driving. The assembly, which will also feature a motivational guest speaker, will illustrate to students the potentially dangerous consequences of their use of alcohol and texting while driving, regardless of how casual they believe their use is.
“I am excited that Westlake High School was selected to host the Every 15 Minutes program. This exercise helps high school students to actually connect the consequences of careless and distracted driving to real people. Such realistic connections can cause students to reflect and reconsider some of their unsafe driving habits and ultimately save lives,” said Westlake Principal Chrystal Benson.
This is the second year that the Waldorf Volunteer Fire Department has sponsored Every 15 Minutes with Charles County Public Schools. Last year, Thomas Stone High School students participated in the event, and many students later said changed their driving habits as a result, particularly when it came to texting and driving.
The event also includes the participation by the Charles County Sheriff's Office, other county fire and rescue departments, Westlake High School staff, Charles County Public Schools, College of Southern Maryland, Maryland State Police Aviation Unit, community officials, Charles County Courthouse officials and a wide cross section of the Charles County community at-large.
Charles County Public Schools provides 26,700 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 35 caring community schools that offer a technological advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.