When Phoebe Taylor put on the drunk goggles and attempted to walk the guided pathway, she thought it would be easy. Instead, the Wiregrass Ranch High freshman was shocked to find herself stumbling throughout and sometimes off the course. 

Like Taylor, students at her school are learning the consequences of drinking and driving, the dangers of not wearing their seatbelts and the importance of mental health. 

“It’s easy for us to just go and do something dumb and regret it later,” Taylor says. “If that actually happened it could be very dangerous.”

The largest-ever Wiregrass Ranch Wellness & Safety Fair was hosted on March 9 by the school’s Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) chapter to bring awareness to mental health and promote a healthier and safer lifestyle. 

The event brought about 35 community leaders and the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) to talk to students and demonstrate the dangers of these acts.

Shaina Finkel, the president of the school’s SADD chapter and the national SADD president for the 2021-22 school year, oversaw the event. Her main goal was to have students talk to these organizations and understand the messages they are spreading.

“It’s not just going in and getting education,” Finkel said. “It’s meeting people and finding things that you might be passionate about that you didn’t know you were passionate about. It’s bringing safety and education and health to our school and it’s just allowing the students to learn.”

Finkel says there have been instances where these messages have not been reached by students; she hopes that through these fairs, students will rethink some of their previous and future decisions.

Ashley Boyles, Wiregrass Ranch High’s assistant principal, also oversaw the Wellness & Safety Fair. She says the fair is eye-opening to students and impacts them for a long time. The last time the fair occurred was two years ago, because of the pandemic, but she says students still remember and talk about it to this day. 

“We’re again trying to make sure that our students are safe not only at school, but out in the community, out on the roads,” she says. “We always say to be college-, career- and life-ready and I think this is something to be life-ready.”

Students watched as a rolling car simulator demonstrated the dangers of drinking and driving and not wearing a seatbelt in a car crash. As the car spun, dummies inside not wearing a seatbelt flew out. Florida Highway Patrol spokesperson Steve Gaskin said he still gets people coming up to him and saying they remember the visual impact, and it is one of the reasons why they buckle up today.

“If I can make an impact on each one of these kids, then that’s one crash I won’t have to work and it’s one family I won’t have to go talk to and say, ‘Hey, your child’s not coming home tonight,’” he says.

Kelsey Strigler, the vice president of Wiregrass Ranch’s SADD chapter, says the car simulator is likely the most effective demonstration to show students the importance of wearing their seatbelts. 

“Looking at it, I would be terrified,” she says. “I already do wear my seatbelt, but If I was a student who didn’t, that would really drive the point across that like you really need to wear that or you’re going to end up like the dummy on the floor.”

Among the booths was the American Foundation of Suicide’s Tampa Bay chapter run by board member Teresa Daniels. She is spreading her son Tristan Daniels’ story in hopes of saving another student’s life. 

“There is hope out there,” she said. “They could be lifesavers. They can help anyone in need.”

Gabriella Nieddialek, a SADD member, recognized the importance of this booth and is glad to now be learning about these tools. 

“A lot of teens don’t really like to come forward about mental health, and it’s definitely something that I’m glad the school introduces and is comfortable talking about,” Nieddialek said. “Definitely encouraging us to talk to people and get help.”

Wiregrass Ranch’s SADD chapter advisor Gregory Finkel is proud of how the event turned out. He watched how students interacted with community members as they talked to each other about what they learned. He says that is what the event is all about. 

“You don’t really get these opportunities too often,” Gregory Finkel said. “If we can hit one of them, just one kid right, make a difference in their lives, the better.”

Recommended Posts

No comment yet, add your voice below!

Add a Comment