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  • Writer's pictureellencdonker


CHS students enter safe driving competition

The statistics are startling. Every 11 minutes a teen is involved in a car crash in New Jersey. In fact, car accidents are the leading cause of death nationally for 16- to 20-year-olds, according to the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association (ADTSEA).

These seem like important statistics to share with the public, so Jersey Drives, a resource to make our roads safer, partnered with the Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey in establishing the U Got Brains Champion Schools Program to involve high schools in getting the word out about teen driving dangers. Participating schools can compete to create a public awareness campaign highlighting the importance of safe driving that is targeted to their peers and local community.

Funding is provided by The New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety with support from founding sponsor New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Group.

Columbia High School teacher Anthony Campiglia first presented the Champion Schools Program opportunity to students in his News 1 class in 2011. They decided to join the challenge and brainstormed a teen driving safety topic that they messaged out to fellow students and the SOMA community, using a stipend from the Champion Schools Program to offset costs. Campiglia (his students call him Mr. Camp) admits that the students didn’t do a very good job that year and won no recognition. But after seeing what it takes to be a contender, students competed the following year and placed as runners-up. By the third year, the class won first place and received a cash prize that can be put towards new equipment for the media and technology department.

In their video, driver Ogenna Oraedu explains that adding a passenger to the car increases the chance of a crash by 50 percent. Add three or more passengers and the chance quadruples.

Campiglia’s class did not enter the competition again until the 2018/19 school year. They brainstormed a “Mellow Yellow” theme, encouraging drivers to slow down at a yellow light. Their campaign included an Instagram video announcing the campaign, along with Mellow Yellow t-shirts, stickers, and car magnets. In addition, students organized a yellow day at school, awarding a Mellow Yellow T-shirt to the student wearing the most yellow. They gave out stickers to students who signed a pledge to slow down for yellow lights and the team created a public service announcement (PSA) and advertised all Mellow Yellow events on the school’s morning news show and Columbia Cougar News. They also publicized their campaign through online media, their social media accounts and on the public access channels. Their efforts paid off and the team won first place, earning the media department a cash prize and a driving simulator for driver’s ed.

After working through campaigns with the students over the years, Campiglia knows a lot about safe driving. But this campaign, in particular, made an impact on him. Now, when he approaches a yellow light, he stops rather than speeding through it.

The 2018/19 Mellow Yellow team won first place. L to R: Anthony Campiglia, Tristan Yarter, Grace Petroccia, Mikael La Cruz, Sunny Solomon, Jacob Hoovler, Jasmine LeCount-McClanahan and Miles Gibbons.

For this year, Campiglia’s News 1 class decided to enter the U Got Brains Champion Schools Program again, but the stakes were even higher. In celebration of the program’s 10th anniversary, team members Will Goldstein, Rayna Hirsch, Ogenna Oraedu, Jonah Smith, and Hannah Winters competed against 64 other schools in New Jersey for a special $10,000 prize to be divided amongst three winners.

Fortunately, the five students involved in the challenge started their project well before distance learning took effect and were able to complete a 30-second promotional PSA that introduced their theme: "Take action Stop distractions." Team member Hannah Winters translated it into a logo.

Junior Ogenna Oraedu explains that the theme explores distractions beyond texting that many drivers don’t consider hazardous, such as eating, taking on too many passengers, and playing loud music. In their video, she cites statistical evidence that adding a passenger to the car increases the chance of a crash by 50 percent. Add three or more passengers and the chance quadruples.

The team had T-shirts, masks, car magnets, and stickers made to further their message's reach.

Oraedu is quick to note that avoiding distractions doesn’t just apply to drivers and says, “When I was walking or biking I used to have my music up and think if I could see the red light I was fine.” Now she makes sure to look around when crossing the street and she keeps her music at a lower volume. Campiglia adds, “Whenever you’re in transit, whether in a car or bike, you want to be aware of your surroundings and not be distracted.”

To finish up the campaign and turn it in by May 20, the team had to complete a longer format video, which normally involves a plot. Since they couldn’t be together to film it, they had to be a little more creative. They also had to devise a different process for gathering signatures from students pledging to say no to distracted driving. Their solution was to ask teachers to put their petition on Google Classroom. Other campaign elements included T-shirts, stickers, car magnets and masks for distribution to further their message’s reach.

On June 6, the U Got Brains Champion Schools Program announced the winners. But instead of holding the awards showcase at Six Flags, they moved it to a virtual platform. Naturally, the students were disappointed. As Campiglia says, “It’s probably one of the most fun parts of the whole campaign. When you go to the awards showcase you get to walk around and talk to the other students and advisors about their projects.”

Nonetheless, students watched from their own computers via a Zoom call and got the unfortunate news that they didn't place. Oraedu says that after the call, "We immediately had our Zoom call and game planned for next year so we can hit the ground running. I had fun doing it. We made a difference and I'm excited for next year."

The 2019/20 team L to R: Hannah Winters, Jonah Smith, Rayna Hirsch,Ogenna Oraedu, and Lena Finnamore. Not pictured: Will Goldstein.

The previous day, Winters had made cupcakes with the campaign's logo, and, depending on the results, planned to declare them victory or sympathy cupcakes. In this case, she delivered the sympathy cupcakes to each teammate after the call which made the news a bit easier to swallow.

To see what the group presented and for more information on safe teen driving, go to website. The campaign will also be on SOMATV.

Ellen Donker now thinks about the team's theme whenever she starts her car.


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