From the Wharton High School PTSA's Health and Safety Committee:
For four months, Wharton High School PTSA’s Health and Safety Committee collaborated with the Florida Department of Transportation, SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) and AT&T to develop a “Don’t Text and Drive” Program … a program that would enhance Wharton’s current driver’s education curriculum and truly impact the decisions our students and families make in the New Tampa community.
Fast forward to September 19, 2012 ... a national day proclaiming “It Can Wait – No Texting While Driving”. Wharton PTSA partnered with AT&T specifically to hold an “It Can Wait” campaign to encourage the entire Wharton community to take the pledge to never text and drive.
Amal and Marcia Forbes, PTSA Health & Safety chairs emphasized the program’s goal was to save lives … the lives of not only past, present and future students but also the lives of those who visit our Wharton campus and website.
Statistics are alarming. According to the National Safety Council, more than 100,000 automobile crashes occur and individuals are injured or die because the driver was texting and driving. AT&T’s Teen Driver Survey finds that 77% of teens have seen their friends and yes, their parents text and drive. Furthermore, 97% of teens will state that texting while driving is very dangerous …. 97% admit this, yet 43% still text and drive
Wharton program events took place in two areas: The Technology Lab and Wharton Cafeteria.
The Technology Lab was the epicenter of the program’s activities which began first period and ran throughout the day. At the start of each period, Stephanie Smith, AT&T/FL Director of Public Affairs spoke from the heart as she zeroed in on the program’s purpose: No text is worth causing an accident – “It Can Wait”. Over 120 students were given the opportunity to view an AT&T 10 minute documentary depicting real individuals and families affected both emotionally and physically by the tragedies of texting while driving. The reaction to the documentary was immediate. A normally interactive and very talkative student group sat motionless with teary eyes as silence consumed the entire classroom. Surprisingly, questions asked by Elizabeth Bolstridge, Wharton’s Technology Instructor, went unanswered despite students that are always very vocal in expressing themselves.
Afterwards, each student was allowed to practice individually or in groups driving the AT&T online computer auto simulator. It was powerful watching the students who have driven a real car direct their classmates with no driving experience. With the simulator, students experienced firsthand how accidents happen in a split second when they are distracted by texting. Each student was then given the opportunity to take the pledge online as well as sign their name to the “No Texting & Driving” poster.
While selected students were in the Technology Lab, PTSA volunteers were busy getting the attention of hundreds of hungry students during three lunch periods. In the Wharton Cafeteria, students could view the AT&T documentary as well as receive stickers and handouts on the dangers of distracted driving.
More important, students and faculty had the opportunity to initiate their pledge by signing huge banners created by Wharton’s leadership class.
In big bold letters, all banners read “It Can Wait” and “I Pledge Not to Text and Drive”. Principal Bradley Woods was one of the first to sign the banner. Throughout each lunch period, Wharton faculty, coaches, assistant principals, guidance counselors and administrators stopped by to sign the pledge.
More important, over 1800 students signed the pledge with all banners now prominently displayed in Wharton’s cafeteria and media center.
Outside the cafeteria students were able to put their pedals to the pavement by riding tricycles without the use of their hands (their hands were used to simulate a cell phone and they pretended to be texting). This was all done on a path drawn on the sidewalk to represent Bruce B Downs Boulevard. It was truly entertaining watching different students challenge each other while trying to demonstrate focus and safe driving behavior.
The day ended with reflections on how outstanding our Wharton Wildcat students are: one community comprised of truly talented, diverse, and intelligent kids. We are extremely proud that a crucial message was delivered, knowing there is still more work to be done. The day before the 19th, PTSA volunteers were dodging rain drops as they decorated the school with “It Can Wait-Don’t Text and Drive/Distracted Driver” banners and permanent metallic parking lot signs. Wharton’s school marquee will continue to flash reminders that the decisions we make while behind the steering wheel can be life changing.
Important Final Reflection: Every 9 minutes someone in the United States is severely injured or dies from the decisions others make to be distracted while driving. The best way to help fight distracted driving is to get educated and it starts with taking the pledge.