Steering clear of unsafe drivers

Members of Denham Springs High School Jackets Against Destructive Decisions called out questions to 52 elementary school students as the group sat in a circle Thursday in the gym at Gray’s Creek Elementary School.

“Don’t ride in a car with an unsafe driver,” said Caitlyn Forest, 10, when asked what she had learned during the Protecting You, Protecting Me summer camp held last week.

“I learned how to prevent alcohol use and how to not ride with an unsafe driver,” the South Walker Elementary School student said.

This was the first time the program, which has been taught in schools nationwide, has been presented as a summer camp to students in first through fifth grades. The program has been taught to students at Denham Springs Elementary School since 2008, but standardized tests and budget cuts have made it difficult to continue teaching the program during school hours, said camp coordinator and former JADD member Dylan Ivy.

The goal of the free program is to prevent the injury and death of children from underage drinking and drunken driving, Ivy said.

“Sixty-six percent of kids in alcohol-related crashes are riding with the impaired driver,” he said.

To teach students how to lessen their odds of injury and death, students in the program are grouped according to grade level for age-appropriate lessons, such as the dangers of drugs and alcohol, Ivy said.

The goal is to have them come back year after year and continue their education about the dangers of substance abuse.

Studies show that students who have attended the five-part program are less likely to abuse alcohol or use drugs, he said.

“I have a passion for this,” Ivy said. “I know it works.”

“This program helps the kids, the parents and the community,” Ivy said. “The kids go home and teach their parents.”

The program is taught by JADD members who have spent more than a week in training sessions to become Protecting You, Protecting Me teachers, Ivy said. They learned the latest brain research, competed in group activities, and prepared and practiced lessons, he said.

After completing the application process, about 10 members were chosen to teach the camp this year.

For JADD member Koral Pattison, 17, the lessons taught at camp are personal.

“I have been in their situation when I was about their age,” Pattison said, as she described riding with an impaired family member when she was in the second grade. “I remember convincing myself it was a short enough distance that nothing would happen. I knew it was wrong.”

Pattison also has a younger brother who also attended the program Thursday.

She said she wants him to know that he can talk to his parents or another adult if something similar should happen to him.

“Not all parents feel comfortable talking with their children about this, and I want any kid to have this opportunity to know what to do in this situation,” Pattison said.

“I want them to know the dangers of not only drinking alcohol but getting into the car with someone who has been drinking because they’re at the age that it’s likely to happen,” she said.