The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

Every 15 Minutes: A Close Look at its Resounding Effects

Every 15 Minutes: A Close Look at its Resounding Effects

*As seen in the April 28 print issue of The Pitch.

 The jaws of life rip off the door of a white sedan, as senior Zach Hazlett and his sister, junior Hannah Hazlett, are dragged out of the car by uniformed fire rescue officers. A helicopter propeller beats the air overhead as it descends on the far end of the front WJ parking lot, where a medical evacuation will take place. Though the surrounding students know the event is only a simulation, the majority of the crowd is overcome with somber silence.

This scenario took place at WJ on Tuesday, April 12, as part of the Every 15 Minutes program. Every 15 Minutes is an event held at high schools around the nation to spread awareness about the dangers of drunk driving and expose students to the scary reality of losing their friends in car accidents. The various parts of the program, including a simulated car crash, a helicopter landing and the feigned death of selected students, are meant to offer “real-life experience without the real-life risks,” as stated by the national Every 15 Minutes website.
 
“[The main goal is] to challenge students to think about drinking, texting while driving, personal safety and the responsibility of making mature decisions when lives are involved,” said Tina Sauer, who works for the Every 15 Minutes national organization.
 
The planners, seniors Jessica Nogueira, Inbal Fingerman, Sarah Howie, Kristen Dabney and Jemile Safaraliyeva, all saw the event as freshmen and wanted to achieve this goal again by using it for their leadership project. In addition to having to get approval from Assistant Principal Chris Merrill or Leadership teacher Nico Atencio on every letter, phone call and e-mail related to the event, the planners had to organize and finalize the entire schedule for the two days, including the details of filming and makeup for 28 student participants.
These participants were taken out of class throughout the day on April 12 by the “Grim Reaper,” played by senior Brady Gradowski, at the sound of a heart monitor played over the P.A. system. Once they were taken out of class, Montgomery County police officers entered the classrooms to read their obituaries. The participants re-entered class with their faces painted white and they remained silent for the rest of the day.

“It’s hard for them to stay the whole day without talking to anyone,” said Nogueira. “It takes a big toll on them.”

At lunch, two wrecked cars simulated a crash, with senior Cole Ahnell playing the role of the drunk driver. The extreme detail of the event, complete with the helicopter, police cars, fire trucks, and county officers, contributed to the seeming reality of the situation and the magnitude of its effects.

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“I think this is actually really effective,” said sophomore Meghan Brennan. “It’s just really scary to see how this can actually happen, and all the consequences. A lot of people [were] really upset, and with the helicopters and the ambulances, it’s just really serious.”

The program appeared to be most powerful for those intimately involved in the program — the students who “died” and their friends.

Capt. Tom Didone, who heads the traffic division for the Montgomery County Police Department, worked with the WJ leaders on the event. He relates personally to the project, as he tragically lost his 15-year-old son in a non-alcohol related car crash in 2008.

“We know that the people that are dynamically involved in the Every 15 Minute program will have carry-over for years to come,” Didone said. “How many of those people out in the audience that witness this program will have a long term benefit? That is the unknown.”

Many questions have been raised as to the effectiveness of the program, especially due to the occurences at Magruder HS in Rockville this March. Every 15 Minutes planner Nogueira learned from Officer Bill Morrison that Magruder students held a party with alcohol the night after the event, which was busted by the same policemen who assisted with the Every 15 Minutes program at their school the previous day.

Emily Novick, Public Health Advisor for the Center of Substance Abuse Prevention, which is a subdivision of the Department of Health and Human Services, says that there are actually more effective ways to reach teens rather than the “scare tactics” used by Every 15 Minutes.

“People watch these things and say, ‘You know, I don’t think that’s true, because my friend Joe had a beer and drove, and nothing happened to him,’” she said. “There’s a credibility problem. It might have short-term effects on people, but when you look at the research on their behavior over time, it doesn’t change.”

According to Novick, more effective tactics, known as “social norming,” involve asking teens what they perceive to be the amount of drinking and driving in their area, which is usually a large percentage, and then informing them of the actual statistics, which is usually a much smaller percentage. Social norming works because it challenges students’ perceptions.

“If they have the real data and realize that everybody’s not actually doing it, then they realize it’s okay to not do it,” said Novick.

At this point, however, most students were impressed with the program and supported the premise behind it.

“A lot of people I know have ‘died,’ which has definitely been really scary and eye-opening,” said junior Maggie Gilligan. “I definitely think people are mature enough at this point to take this seriously and understand that this is something that is very real and present.”

The assembly on April 13 added to the chilling reminder that any peer could be killed as a result of a bad decision. A movie was shown depicting the previous day’s events, and a guest speaker, Officer Vic Kennedy, served as a powerful and emotional addition to the program. He told the story of his brother who was killed by a drunk driver in 1981, and left the students with a very significant image.

“Think about someone, anyone, that you love, and imagine that you are the one to kill them.”

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