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Program urges students to 'think first'

Fallbrook High School is continuing its efforts with the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and the Think First project to warn high school students against reckless driving and underage drinking and driving, with special focus on the prom and graduation season.

The high school takes every opportunity it can to discuss the repercussions of drinking with its students, said Josh Way, director of the Associated Student Body (ASB).

“All of these events purposely happen right before spring break, prom and graduation,” said Way.

“Every year during Standardized Testing and Results (STAR) testing when we have the seniors during the test, we take the opportunity to have guest speakers from various organizations speak to the students about making positive choices, especially when it comes to drinking,” said Way. “This year we have Eric Newbury from the CHP giving a presentation on drinking and driving.”

Throughout the year, the high school also hosts free Start Smart driver’s classes, which are provided by the CHP for new drivers and their parents.

High school seniors and juniors are not the only students being targeted by the anti-underage drinking programs at the high school.

“Our Health and Life Skills classes, taken by all ninth graders, teach the students about the many dangers of alcohol consumption,” said assistant principal John Hayek.

The high school also hosts the Every 15 Minutes program – a comprehensive program that gives juniors and seniors a simulated experience of losing fellow students at the hands of a drunk driver – every other year.

“This is a two-day event that involves all of the local agencies; fire, police, sheriff, etc. aimed at not only exposing the realities of such tragedies, but educating students on how they can make positive choices when put in real life scenarios,” said Way.

This year, the high school hosted the Think First program on April 29.

“Think First is another day to speak about implication of making bad choices behind the wheel,” said Way. “[Think First] provides numerous speakers who have been directly impacted by poor choices come and they give their testimony.”

“In a perfect world, kids wouldn’t drink and drive,” said John Buchanan, public information officer for North County Fire Protection District. “We are trying to teach kids that their parents would much rather receive a call from them to pick them up than the medical examiner’s office asking for them to identify their child.”

Buchanan believes that the hard facts of reckless driving and underage drinking and driving he presents in his slide show and presentation are a good “wake up call” for the students.

“The presentation can be graphic, but high school kids don’t believe [they can be hurt or killed] until they see it,” said Buchanan. “We show the outcomes of crashes from distracted or drunk driving in communities.”

According to Buchanan, the Think First and Every 15 Minutes programs have been highly successful in deterring students from reckless and drunk driving.

“From the time I began working [with NCFPD] in 1990 to 1999, we would lose two to five students to crashes during prom and graduation each year,” said Buchanan. “Since the programs were implemented in 2000, we haven’t lost a student every single year. While our results are not 100 percent perfect, the education and knowledge is being put into use by the students.”

It is not merely the school administration and law officials that are taking a stand against underage drinking, said Way.

“We have a group of students who have been very proactive in motivating parents and peers to pledge not to drink. They are called the Fallbrook Youth Prevention Group and they have been really active this year,” said Way. “They hosted two parent town hall meetings and a lunchtime rally on campus.”

According to Hayek, the Fallbrook Youth Prevention Group recently encouraged fellow students to take a special pledge against drinking, focusing particularly on prom and graduation.

“During graduation, the administration goes into every senior class and speaks to them about making positive choices,” said Way. “Principal Rod King always has a very honest and sincere message for the seniors.”

However, some students still feel the need to drink, and if they are found drunk on campus, disciplinary measures are taken.

“Whenever a student is in trouble for being in possession and/or under the influence of alcohol, they are suspended from school for five days and their parents are called to come and pick them up,” said Hayek. “Students are given the option to enter a free drug/alcohol education program through Palomar Family Counseling in order to have the suspension reduced to three days. Students who are caught under the influence of alcohol at school a second time are recommended for expulsion from the district.”

To limit the amount of drinking done on school premises and at school functions, the school uses sensors.

“At all school dances, school administrators use the alcohol sensor at the entry way to deter and/or detect the presence of alcohol on the breath of the students,” said Hayek. “We very rarely have students who have been drinking attempt to enter a school dance.”

“We use the breathalyzer as a proactive measure to ensure the safety of our students,” agreed Fallbrook High School principal Rod King. “Just knowing that we have the means to detect alcohol consumption makes [students] think twice.”

“As a school we recognize the dangers of Fallbrook roads and the tragic history of events our community has experienced over the years,” said Way. “We try to be as proactive as we can in providing students and parents the information they need to make safe choices when driving.”

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