Mock Crash Assembly
by Mr. Steve Poggendorf
Each year, I teach Henry David Thoreau’s Walden to the juniors in my English 3 class; it is one of my favorite American literature pieces to read with young people. One of his points, however, I want my students to ignore, at least regarding one potential conflict in their lives. Thoreau states, “Here is life, an experiment to a great extent untried by me; but it does not avail me that they have tried it.” He suggests that young people should experience life’s trials and tribulations, as opposed to listening to their elders’ advice or general warnings. He was clearly in the “live and learn” camp, which is great. In general, I respect his sentiment, but there are a few experiences that I hope none of our students have to live through to fully comprehend.
When I received the email that Neoga High School would once again be coordinating with local first responders to re-enact a fatal drunk-driving scenario, I felt conflicted. Of all of the assemblies that our school hosts, this is the one that I look forward to the least; it is unbelievably difficult to watch. As a teacher (and parent), the last thing that I want to experience is the first-hand devastation of an automobile accident involving young people. This activity forces our entire high school to confront this unimaginable horror. Even though this performance is unbearable and uncomfortable to watch for teenagers, as well as adults, it has become an important part of school tradition.
So, on an uncharacteristically, yet appropriately, cold and blustery Spring morning, students were dismissed from their third-hour classes to witness this powerful scene. It was sobering to see their hallway chatter dissipate as they sensed the haunting imagery awaiting them. As they walked out of the building, they saw two mangled cars, as well as several of their classmates caught up in the worst moment of their lives. Our student body heard the screams, saw the blood drip on pavement, heard the sirens, witnessed sobbing parents, and watched the first responders do the job that brings even the most seasoned veterans to their knees. Jackson Clark, a junior, played the part of a drunk driver responsible for a terrible post-prom car accident. Halle Ramert (junior), Rachel Ewing (senior), Emily Wasmuth (senior), Trenton Moore (freshman), Kaylie Worthey (senior), and Jessica Atwell (junior) all played the parts of injured individuals, each with varying degrees of injury. Taylor Lee, a junior, had the most difficult and heart-wrenching place in the performance -- the teenager found DOA (dead on arrival). Ms. Kim Romack, the NHS driver’s education/health teacher, consistently does an excellent job of recruiting students who take on some very difficult acting roles for this presentation. Her leadership, combined with the students’ serious approach to the event, always makes for an unforgettable spectacle. Community members and first responders Brandon Helm and Alan Baker also contributed many hours to the coordination of this mock crash.
As prom season approaches our high school, I hope that our students remember this re-enactment. In fact, I hope that they remember it forever. The blood was fabricated, the screams were forced, the DUI arrest was feigned, and the death was fictional. The scene, however, was not “fake.” Each year, students nationwide make poor choices that lead to untimely devastation for young people and their families. We do not live in a perfect world, so it is impossible to expect every teen to avoid the lure of alcohol. At this school, however, alcohol-related accidents involving student drivers should never occur. Neoga students have seen the terrible effects of this situation first-hand, which will hopefully steer them toward good decisions when they get behind the wheel. So, NHS students, even though I love Thoreau’s thoughts on learning from experience, in this case, listen to your elders -- do not drink and drive.