It is springtime or for most high school students, “prom season.” Benicia High School’s juniors and seniors looked stunning last Saturday night as they headed off to San Francisco for their prom. The weather is getting warmer, the school year is winding down and soon there will be parties to celebrate graduation. Parents take great pride in their children’s successes at this time of year, yet silently harbor great fear that those same children will make one bad decision that could change their lives and the lives of those around them forever.
To remind students that someone is killed in an alcohol or drug related traffic accident in this country “Every 15 Minutes,” the 2-day nationally recognized program of the same name, was presented last week at for Benicia High and students.
There are some people who feel that this program is not effective, is not taken seriously by the students, takes valuable time away from the classroom, is too traumatic for some and that trying to “scare students straight” doesn’t work.
According to the most recent California Healthy Kids Survey, our 9th and 11th graders “self-reported” problems with alcohol use at rates 5% - 12% higher than the State average.
- 31% of 11th graders (8% higher than the state average) drink to get drunk or “binge drink” up to 3 times a month.
- 23% of 9th graders and 39% of 11th graders have used alcohol in the last 30 days.
- 22% of 9th graders and 31% of 11th graders say they have driven or been a passenger in a car driven by a friend who had been drinking.
- Alcohol is Benicia’s primary problem, with data showing a significant increase in use starting in 5th to 11th grade.
- Benicia had 15 underage emergency room admissions due to alcohol in the last year.
These are our children. If watching the program makes even one student stop and think before making the tragic decision to drive while under the influence or getting into a car with someone who has been drinking, then it was a success.
The “Every 15 Minutes” program has been presented to Benicia’s students every other year since 2002. And while alcohol use among our teens doesn’t appear to be decreasing, we are extremely fortunate not to have had any reported alcohol related fatalities involving our students. Is the program responsible for that? Maybe, maybe not, but the many people who have dedicated countless hours to make this program available sincerely hope that it has made more than a few kids stop and call for a ride over the years rather than get behind the wheel while under the influence.
This was the third presentation I had seen and while they have all been extremely powerful, this one seemed different. The student audience seemed much more respectful and engaged than in previous years. It is very difficult not to personalize the wrenching words of the student participants when they read letters to their families written as if they had been killed in a drunk driving accident. The student’s and parent’s letters are deeply emotional and raw and there is no question that a great deal of time and care went into writing them and it’s hard not to be affected by their words.
My daughter is only a sophomore, but this was her third time seeing the program too. She also thought this was one of the best presentations and commented that now when she hears the song that was played in the opening video, it makes her sad, but she will always remember the program and the powerful message any time she hears it.
To the dedicated high school and district office personnel, , , CHP, Cal-Star life flight, EMTs, medical personnel, business and community members, parents and students and everyone else who spent months preparing for this presentation in an effort to keep our kids safe, “Thank You.” There is no question that Benicia cares about its kids, but as the numbers above show, we still have a great deal of work to do. Our kids may be getting the message regarding the dangers of driving under the influence. Now we need to send a very clear message of how dangerous it is to simply be under the influence of drugs or alcohol at such a young age in the first place. If you weren’t able to attend the community presentation last week, please take a moment to watch the video.
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