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By Susan Parmelee and Brooke Harvey
The Wellness & Prevention Center and San Clemente High School partnered with the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and the Office of Traffic Safety to hold “Every 15 Minutes” at the high school for junior and senior students on March 28. The event was led by Brooke Harvey, a senior at San Clemente High School. I asked her to summarize the event for this month’s column:
For the event, I encouraged three of my friends to pretend to die in a car accident. I asked these three, knowing their “deaths” would have an emotional impact on their family, friends, peers and teachers. When I started high school, I noticed there was a somewhat reckless and careless culture at San Clemente High School regarding drinking and driving. Many schools in the Capistrano Unified School District put on “Every 15 Minutes” every two years, but SCHS had not done so since 2009. I decided to research, plan and lead this event to educate the student body and the community of San Clemente about how one wrong decision to drive a car after drinking alcohol could affect the lives of so many.
On the day of the mock crash, a student was removed from their classroom every 15 minutes to symbolize the fact that one person dies every 15 minutes from an alcohol-related crash, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and CHP. Every 15 minutes during the school day, we rang a funeral bell and the grim reaper and a California Highway Patrol officer read a student obituary and escorted that student out of class to place their grave marker on the school lawn. After they were pulled out of class, the students lost contact with everyone (friends and family) for the remainder of that day until the assembly/mock-funeral we held the following morning for 1,600 of my classmates.
The 28 student participants spent the night at a retreat, away from friends and family, to reflect on the feelings brought on by being ripped away from the people we love most. This component of the program was probably the most surreal aspect for the teens involved. As part of the retreat, we wrote a letter to our parents as if we had died. Many of us took this opportunity to thank our parents for the role they played in our lives. We thanked them for their unconditional love and their eternal support. Many of us also took this time to apologize and reflect on the impact of a bad decision that left their parents in the difficult position of having lost a child. The parents of the participants also wrote letters to their child that were very emotional for the students to read.
I hope that this event continues every two years at San Clemente High School. I hope the event and follow-up activities over the next several months will result in lowered rates of drinking and driving in San Clemente. Students at SCHS took the pledge to never drink and drive, and soon our “Every 15 Minutes” committee will ask San Clemente residents to take the pledge to never drink and drive.
I will be taking my pledge with me away to college as will many of my peers. Drinking and driving is a choice that leads to horrible outcomes. We are a community. We are a family. And it is our responsibility to take care of one another and not take the life of another by making the wrong choice.
Brooke is a senior at San Clemente High School and has lived in SC for about 10 years. She plans to study engineering at a four year university in the fall and cannot wait to start the next chapter of her life.
Susan Parmelee is a mental health social worker and one of the founders of the Wellness & Prevention Center, San Clemente. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next meeting for the Wellness and Prevention Coalition will be at 4 p.m. on April 11 at the Triton Conference Center at San Clemente High School, located at 700 Avenida Pico.