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South El Monte High Students Get Realistic Look at Dangers of Drinking and Driving

Photo by Anne Denofrio Holter

by Anne Donofrio-Holter

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South El Monte

South El Monte High School students got a first hand look at the perils of drinking and driving when the school presented the “Every 15 Minutes” program.  South El Monte High School was the first school in the El Monte Union High School District to present this very realistic program to its students several years ago which is a partnership between the California Highway Patrol and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department along with the support of various other agencies including Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.), the City of South El Monte, Los Angeles County Fire Department, Greater El Monte Hospital, A.M.R. Ambulance, Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office, Freddie Mac’s Towing, Double Tree Hotel, Mercy Air, Pierce Brothers Mortuary, Sandoval Towing Inc., Makeup Effects by Stan Burwell, Rodas, Snackfast Vending, Tacos El Chaparrito, El Monte Subway on Garvey, South El Monte High School PTSA, Cardinal Finishes and DeWitt Petroleum.
“Every 15 Minutes” is a program where agencies from our local community work together with our high school in an effort to produce a strong message on the dangers associated with driving while impaired,” said Principal Oscar Cisneros.  “This realistic approach demonstrates the horrors of drinking and driving and reminds our students that making the right choice will save lives.”
The program begins as a sheriff’s deputy, dressed as the “Grim Reaper,” pulls one student out of class every 15 minutes.  As the student leaves, an announcement is made over the public address system that the school has just been notified that one of South El Monte High School’s students has been killed in a drunk driving accident.  The students taken from class are escorted to a holding area.  As pre-arranged with the students’ parents, a sheriff’s deputy knocks on the door of the home of each of the students informing the parents that their child has been killed.  The students remain overnight in the care of the school to further stress to family and friends that they are now deceased.  Students participate in discussions with counselors and volunteers as parents meet with a Mothers Against Drunk Driving representative.  Parents, in advance, have written obituaries for their children which are read at an assembly the following day after which parents and students are reunited for the first time in 24 hours, hopefully with a better understanding of the consequences of drinking and driving.
Another component of the program deals with staging a drunk driving accident for the students to witness.  Students are made up to look like accident victims with cuts, bruises, broken bones, embedded glass and plenty of blood.
“I didn’t realize the guilt I would feel until I saw the make-up being applied to my friends who would be involved in the accident,” said the student selected to play the drunk driver responsible for the accident.  “I walk away with just a few cuts and bruises after causing the deaths of the others.”
The simulated accident scene is made even more realistic by the use of the jaws of life to extract those in the car, by an ambulance taking injured students to the hospital, by the coroner taking the bodies of those killed to the morgue, and by the student driver being handcuffed and taken off to jail to undergo the booking process.  Mercy Air transported victims to the hospital via a helicopter that landed on the school’s athletic field.
“I think this is a valuable program because it allows students to experience in a small way the devastating effects caused by drunk driving accidents,” said Assistant Principal Olga Lopez.  “We have these programs right before prom and graduation festivities as a reminder to students to make the right choices and avoid potential life changing choices such as drinking and driving.  Students and parents have an opportunity to reflect on the dangers, pain and loss that can result from making a bad decision such as driving drunk.”
“Our students were very open, receptive and reflective as they were presented with the program,” said Cisneros.  “I am pleased that we were able to provide our students with this experience.”
“This program has definitely reinforced my resolve not to drink and drive,” said one student.
“After seeing this, I would not get in the car of someone who has been drinking,” said another.
“We are very appreciative of all of the agencies, community partners, as well as of our students, parents and staff for their contributions to making the Every 15 Minutes program a success,” said Cisneros. “When it comes to protecting and teaching our children about the potentially tragic consequences to their choices, this community consistently comes together and is selfless in its efforts to instill strong values in the young members of our community.”

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News of the San Gabriel Valley since 1966.
South El Monte High Students Get Realistic Look at Dangers of Drinking and Driving