Every 15 Minutes brought reality to Emmetsburg High School last week. This program caught the students by surprise time and time again.
I could see it in their faces. Every time the students thought there would be nothing more that could shock them, another part of the real-life situation was laid out.
In the workbook for the Every 15 Minute program, it says "the ultimate goal of the program is to get teenagers to think about making mature decisions when it comes to drinking and driving, and to evaluate how their decisions can impact family, friends and many others."
With every twist and turn over two days, Emmetsburg High School students were given something to think about. By the end, students, parents who were involved, teachers and community members were emotionally exhausted.
After the grim reaper pulled students from class, at intervals of 15 minutes, Sheriff Goeders told the class: John Doe, son of Jane and John Doe Sr., was killed in an alcohol-related accident today at 10:12 a.m. John was born July 4, 1993, and died April 6, 2011." Parents gave consent for students' involvement.
The students returned to class, faces painted white with black around their eyes, as they became the "living dead." They were given orange tags to wear, resembling toe tags, and were unable to communicate with classmates.
The living dead witnessed subsequent events as a group. They were at the simulated crash site where two of their peers died, one survived and was taken for medical care by helicopter and another was charged with two counts of homicide by vehicle. Realistic scenes were carried out at Palo Alto County Hospital where grieving parents were told their son had died, and at the Palo Alto County Jail where the student was finger printed, put into an orange suit and locked in a jail cell.
At the end of day one, the living dead went to New Hope on an overnight retreat, away from family and friends. They wrote letters to their parents, similar to "Today I died and I didn't get to tell you..." Parents also wrote letters to their children - and parents wrote their childrens' obituaries.
Day two, as the living dead filed into the school auditorium, several ran to their parents and cried with relief.
When the high school students came into the auditorium, the stage was set for the trial. Prosecutors and defense pleaded their cases to the judge. It was the real thing - real lawyers and a real judge handing down the sentence.
Then there was the funeral, once again realistic in every detail. Boxes of tissues were handed out to the students as they signed the memorial book, gave condolences to the family, listened to the pastor's message and listened to the music. The casket was prominent on the stage.
Professionals from Emmetsburg High School, Palo Alto County Health System, Palo Alto County Ambulance Service, Palo Alto County Attorney's Office, Palo Alto County Sheriff, Emmetsburg Police Department, Emergency Management Emmetsburg Fire Department, Mercy Airlife, City of Emmetsburg, Iowa Lakes Community College,Wickman's Auto, Terry Snavely, American Red Cross IGL Chapter, Hope Haven and Joyce Funeral Home came together to offer reality to the program.
Sheryl Darling, EMS?Coordinator, told us that participation in this nationwide program originated with the Palo Alto County?Health System/Ambulance Service. As a representative, she attended coordinator training offered by the Every 15 Minutes program as part of a grant they offered. Grant funds were applied for and provided through the Love Our Kids Grant Project, sponsored by the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Sheryl explained that the only students who knew their roles were those actually involved in the mock car crash. The rest of the students did not know of their involvement until the Grim Reaper pulled them out of the classroom.
Every 15 Minutes at Emmetsburg High School was as close to reality as most of these students, and their parents, ever want to get. The students will remember these two days, and follow up exercises reinforce encouraging students to make good decisions.