Summit High School students are preparing to kick off their second Teen Seat Belt Challenge next week. The six-week campaign is promoted by the Central Mountains Regional Emergency Trauma Advisory Council (RETAC). Summit High joins five other high schools in hopes of raising awareness and raising seat belt use rate within the county.
The campaign is made possible through a $50,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation, with an additional $12,500 contributed by RETAC. The first year of the campaign was hailed as a success, with an increase of 12 percent in seat belt use across the region, with four schools participating. With a total of six high schools involved in 2013, organizers are optimistic of increasing the campaign's reach.
"We did some research and we found that for every one person that we can convince to change their lifestyle and use a seatbelt for the rest of their lives, we will have a million dollar impact on the health care system," said Anne Robinson, project coordinator for Central Mountains RETAC. "If even in one school we get five kids to change their mind, that's a $5 million impact of what we're saving."
Throughout the six weeks, Robinson said, RETAC members will be traveling to Summit, Eagle Valley, Salida, Lake County, Buena Vista and South Park high schools to keep track of the campaign and take counts on seat belt usage. Although each school differs in terms of implementation, the campaign is meant to be student led, with faculty members and advisors taking a mentoring position, guiding from the back as the students push the campaign forward themselves.
"I'm excited," Robinson said. "The momentum and the students rallying around this concept, wanting to make a change and convince students to do it, that's what I enjoy most of all, seeing the students and being involved with them in their excitement, and that's to me the most rewarding."
The students at Summit High School are eager to be involved and have already formed a committee of nine to take the campaign to their peers and the community at large.
The high school has a good start already. At the end of the 2012 campaign, Summit High had a 95.5 percent seat belt usage rate. In the fall, RETAC counted again and found that the rate had fallen to 93.1 percent. However, Summit still leads the other schools in this percentage, with Eagle Valley High School in second place at 86.5 percent and Salida High in third with 51.9 percent.
Summit Junior Davis Gidney was involved with the campaign last year and has taken charge of it in 2013, rallying her classmates through Facebook to join the cause. Davis, her classmates and their mentor, dean of students Jim Smith, are in the planning stages, deciding the best way to get their message to other students and the community.
A "Healthy Choices" assembly will take place April 10 to kick it off. As with last year, there will most likely be a t-shirt design competition as well as multiple appearances by "Timmus" the Tiger mascot.
"I think what they did last year was a really good start for what we're going to do this year, because it really set some ground rules and ground expectations for us to follow and hopefully improve on," Gidney said.
One aspect of the campaign is competition between the participating schools, with prizes awarded for best presentation (given to RETAC members at the end of the six weeks) and largest percentage gain in seat belt usage.
"The competition itself and the idea of being competitive, it's all well and fun, but it's really about providing people with an opportunity to potentially save their lives," Smith said.
The students involved echoed the sentiment. While the competition is fun, and they certainly intend to do their best to win it, the importance and the seriousness of the underlying message are not to be overlooked.
The issue has particular importance for Summit High students, who lost their classmate Lizzie Murphy in a car accident in May 2011. Murphy, who was a junior at the time, was not wearing a seat belt when the accident occurred. Following the tragedy, friends, family and the community rallied around her memory, creating the Got Seat Belt? campaign, posting signs throughout the county to remind people to buckle up.
"Our school is just so close, so when ... something tremendous happens in our school community, we all come together," Gidney said.
Her classmate and fellow campaigner Taylor Bohlender agreed. "I think it's so personal to everyone that, we should have this. That's why I wanted to get involved."
The girls said that the entire school felt a connection to the cause, and they were sure everyone would be eager to assist the campaign in any way possible. That goes for the faculty as well.
"If you can impact one person ... that in that one moment there's somebody who needs a seat belt and they're wearing it because of this campaign, you just can't put a value on that," Smith said. "It's an incredible outcome of what we're trying to do."
The students added that they will be focusing their attention not just on other students, but also on faculty, parents and the community as a whole.
"Were going to work on reaching out to more people this year, because last year we did a pretty good job of reaching out to a lot, but really going out into the community as well is important this year," said Gidney.
"And I just think that if we were to raise more community awareness, then it would be more beneficial to everyone and not just the high schoolers," Bohlender added.