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From the students' perspective
As part of Every 15 Minutes, 18 Mountain Valley students were escorted from their classrooms, one by one, every 15 minutes throughout the day by the Grim Reaper. Rumford Police Sgt. Tracey Higley read an obituary about each person.
Two of those 18 students were Melanie McDiffett and Joshua Rainey, who wrote about their experience.
Some students thought that it was a waste of time, while others were emotionally distraught. As a member of the “living dead,” we were bussed to a hotel where we were not allowed any communications with parents or friends. A few kids thought that we were going on vacation but for all of us members, it was no vacation at all.
When we arrived at the hotel, we went to our rooms and then followed the teachers to a conference room where we spent most of the night. During the night, we did a few trust games, ate dinner and had two women share with us their tragic stories. After the speakers were done, we all sat in a circle with the lights off and just expressed our feelings.
For some, it opened a lot of wounds. For others, they opened their eyes to bad decisions they have made or someone they know has made. Finally we were asked to take a moment to write a “good bye” letter to our parents. We were also told that we would have an opportunity to read our letters during the assembly the following day if we wanted.
The next day, we were bussed back to the high school for an assembly/mock funeral. We were still not allowed to see or talk to anyone because we were still the “living dead.” After all the students and parents were seated in the auditorium, we made our entrance.
Eleven of the “living dead” walked in followed by a casket and then eleven more followed the casket. We listened to a father talk about his daughter who is being charged for the deaths of two people because she made the choice to drink, text and drive. Then we heard from a doctor, who explained how not all people lose their lives. “They are physically damaged for life.”
It was a very emotional time for all of us. Michele Cushman shared her story about her daughter (Rebecca) that had recently passed away because of a drunk driving accident. Mr. Gilbert finished up the assembly and sent the kids back to class.
At that time the “living dead” were finally reunited with their parents. All I could do when I met up with my mom was hug her and cry and told her that I loved her. I saw my sister and hugged her and cried as well.
I am so thankful that our school had the opportunity to have an event like this. It has touched many hearts and hopefully changed people's decisions about texting/drinking and driving. I know it has mine.
My experience with the “Every 15 Minutes” program has been a real eye opener. When I first got chosen to participate in it, I never gave it much thought. I thought it was just another pointless activity going on. But it was far from that.
When I first heard about the program, I searched on YouTube for a video portraying what takes place and I was shocked. The realness of this program sunk in almost immediately and I knew it was one that needed to be taken seriously.
The first thing that happened was the Grim Reaper took me during class. I was the fourth one to be chosen or “killed” in a texting and driving accident. It was kind of a surreal feeling. I wasn’t sure how to act when I got taken away by the Grim Reaper. After, we headed down to the “Command Center,” where we were to have no communication with anyone. There were people from Channel 8 news, counselors, tons of food and games and we all had a homework packet with all of our homework for the day.
At 2:30 p.m., when all the students had been chosen, we left for our retreat at the Comfort Inn in Wilton. When we got there, we went over common courtesy rules of the hotel and began with some trust games.
The trust games were very in-depth, very emotional and a real eye opener for me. We had several guest speakers, Mrs. Jan Bordeau, who lost her granddaughter a couple of years ago to a fatal car accident, and Michelle Cushman, who lost her daughter several months ago to a fatal car crash involving alcohol in Wisconsin.
Their presentations were very emotional for everyone and really made us realize that this is reality. That it can happen to anyone at anytime. I believe that everyone who was there really benefitted from the program and I believe it should be done in every high school across the country.
In the Mountain Valley High School cafeteria, a "cemetery" was set up on May 8 depicting students who were "killed" in a mock dramatization of driving under the influence or while distracted. Each tombstone displayed a photo of the student "killed." (Times photo by Bruce Farrin)