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April 25th, 2012

$2,000 grant presented to Highland High School

Highland High School 11th grade student Miriam Amaro stands next to her winning “Think. Drive. Arrive.” poster design, which addresses teen driver safety.
Highland - According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website, 75% of U.S. drivers ages 18 to 29 reported that they talked on their cell phone while driving at least once in the past 30 days, and nearly 40% reported that they talk on their cell phone ‘regularly’ or ‘fairly often’ while driving.

Highland High School (HHS) was recently awarded a $2,000 grant to address these dangerous behaviors from the State Farm Insurance Company as part of their Project Ignition grant program. The grant addresses teen driver safety issues by supporting a variety of initiatives in a student-led campaign called “Think. Drive. Arrive.” Ulster BOCES Grant Coordinator Bonita Meadow and HHS English teacher Annmarie Meisel jointly developed the successful grant application.

The goal of the grant is to enhance awareness of the precarious behaviors teens engage in without even being fully aware of doing so. The initial inspiration for this grant, according to Ms. Meisel, was the success of the Love in Bloom garden in the HHS courtyard, a meditation space partly dedicated to the memory of two young people, Alicia Quintana and Felicia Puccillo. Each of these young women, who were loved by many in the community, died as the result of tragic car accidents. The Love in Bloom garden is dedicated to encouraging young people to make healthy choices.

In that spirit, the monies from the grant are being used in a multifaceted four-month campaign of powerful, thought-provoking activities that focus on accentuating the need for young people to be safe, careful drivers. Students in media arts classes have designed bumper stickers, posters, T-shirts, and buttons that students are wearing to spread the message, “Think. Drive. Arrive.” English teachers Krista Petrosoff, Steve Masson, Josh Tatum, and Annmarie Meisel wrote an original play, Status Update, which described the factors leading to a student’s tragic death, resulting from driving while texting. The show was then performed twice by a talented cast and crew of 26 High School students.

There was even an impromptu “thumb-print pledge” added to the program, whereby students applied their thumb prints in red ink on banner paper in a pledge of no texting while driving -

“Give Texting the Thumbs Down!

A mural is also being planned, to be painted by students and teachers in the Love in Bloom garden, using a quote from Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus as its theme: “Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,” a lamentation concerning youthful death. Drama classes will also stage short plays on the theme of driving safely and making healthy, non-destructive choices. An assembly, scheduled for Friday, April 27, will feature guest speakers whose lives have been affected by careless, distracted, or impaired driving. The student newspaper is also supporting this effort with theme-based graphics and stories based on personal narratives and student interviews.

Perhaps one of the most affecting of the activities being planned is the creation of simulations of the types of chalk outlines usually found at accident scenes, indicating where the bodies of victims of these tragedies were found. These evocative drawings will symbolize the yearly number of teen deaths attributed to distracted driving or driving under the influence. The current plan is for this phase of the campaign to coincide with the annual SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) pre-prom safe-driving assembly.

“This is such a multi-faceted and potentially powerful project, and I am extremely proud that our grant application was successful,” says Meadow.

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