Staying Safe?

Staying Safe?

Stone Bridge High School Resource Officer Deputy Ritchy Fowler believes in the deterrent factor.

He believes that simply having a police presence in high schools discourages students from making bad choices when it comes to underage drinking and driving during prom season.

"Without the police presence in schools, you would be calling parents and raiding hotels," he said.

Since Fowler has worked in the school system he has seen a dramatic drop in the number of alcohol-related incidences surrounding prom.

"There have been maybe two cases in the last nine years," he said. "It has really helped."

Every year as prom season arrives and students' thoughts turn to celebrating and summer, many parents' and school officials' thoughts turn to keeping their students safe.

"The biggest thing is trying to make kids make good decisions," Coach John Costello, who is the sponsor of SADD at Broad Run High School, said. "If they make the first bad choice to drink, we don't want them to make the second bad choice of driving or getting into the car with someone who has been drinking."

For Costello one of the biggest concerns is not just the students but the roads themselves. "It's been told that the roads of Belmont Ridge, Ashburn and Hay Road are the most dangerous in Loudoun County," he said. "Our students are on those roads all the time."

ACCORDING TO the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office, in 2005 there were 604 teenagers involved in reportable accidents, or accidents where there were injuries or more than $1,000 in damages. To date there have been 166 teenagers involved in reportable accidents in 2006. "Those accidents include all teenagers, whether they were driving or just passengers," Sheriff's Office spokesperson Kraig Troxell said. Of the 2005 accidents, 29 of them involved alcohol. There have been 10 accidents involving alcohol so far in 2006, along with nine driving under the influence (DUI) arrests. While 10 alcohol-related accidents might not seem like many when compared with the growing population of teenagers in the county, Costello says, "even one is too many."

There is no department within the school system dedicated to educational programs; each school is responsible for handling their own safety programs.

However the Loudoun County chapter of MADD does offer a program to schools each year that focuses on the dangers of drinking and drinking and driving. "The program is scientifically based," Loudoun MADD president Susan Cleveland said. "We have evidence that the teenage brain doesn't stop developing until they are 21, so we have medical support for everything."

The program, which is presented by professionals out of the MADD headquarters in Dallas, combines video, music and facts to try and make an impact on students.

"We have a lot of fun but we try and get some education across at the same time," Cleveland said.

The program is offered for free to all elementary, middle and high schools in the county, but Cleveland said they were only able to present the assembly at eight schools this year.

"The biggest problem is trying to fit it into the schedules," she said. "It gets very complicated to schedule the assembly because of all of the testing that goes on in the spring."

WITH THE BUSY schedules of high-school students and the schools themselves, finding time for additional programming can become difficult to do.

"Things have been so crazy this year, it has been hard to get things rolling," Costello said. "Prom kind of sneaks up on you."

In the past, Costello has set up posters and arranged assemblies to remind students of the negative impact of drinking and driving. One of the most affective assemblies he arranged was a simulated car crash where students saw how the jaws of life were used to extract passengers from wrecked cars. Costello has also arranged to have demolished cars placed in front of the school, something he still hopes to arrange for this year, so that "kids are aware of the dangers."

As a preemptive action, Fowler teaches classes about the affects of drinking, including the legal ramifications of what happens if students were to get caught drinking under age.

"We teach the seniors all over again during the spring so that it is fresh in their mind," he said.

Whatever classes they take, whatever information they are given, the most important thing that Cleveland hopes that students remember while out celebrating their prom is they can have fun without drinking.

"This is supposed to be one of the happiest times of their lives," she said. "I hope they have a good time so that they can remember their prom as something happy and positive, not as something that was ruined by a bad decision."