With prom looming, Eagle County School District hosts safe driving fairs at high schools
Students from Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain get opportunity to engage with local first responders, nonprofits and organizations
Over the past month, both Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain high schools hosted safe driving fairs. The fairs aimed at educating students about the importance of driving safely as well as on the perils of impaired and distracted driving. Battle Mountain hosted its fair on Wednesday, May 4, and Eagle Valley on Wednesday, April 5.
In the past, similar fairs were put on by a coalition of first responders and the Eagle County Prevention Committee. However, after dwindling for a few years during COVID-19, they were brought back to both schools this year with the help of the district’s prevention coordinators.
“We are to a place now where we’ve been able to insert so much behavioral health and prevention work through capacity building in the schools over the last six years that we’ve been able to go a little bit more global in the school district,” said Candace Eves, one of the district’s prevention coordinators. “Through that process, we’ve really tried to build out the social and emotional aspects of what we have for students in our schools.”
However, high school students can be hard to reach. These students fulfill their social-emotional curriculum needs (per the state of Colorado) in their ninth-grade health class, so the challenge is finding ways to connect with them during their remaining three and a half years, Eves added.
“We’re constantly trying to find ways to introduce and get more of some prevention education that’s meaningful to them,” she said, adding that reinvigorating the safe driving fairs is just one of the ways they’re doing so.
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“What we’re noticing is our students, when they congregate with their peers out in the community, a lot of times the vehicle is the method of transportation to where they’re going,” Eves said. “We wanted to recognize that instead of constantly trying to push it in the classroom, show how these things impact your life in real life, and how things can change in a moment when you make a decision.”
The importance of the lessons taught at the fair were particularly important with prom and graduation around the corner, stressed Lisa Pisciotta, one of the district’s prevention coordinators.
The goal of the events, Pisciotta said, was to “help students understand the importance of driving sober, the consequence of driving impaired, the benefits of driving without distraction, the effects of not wearing a seatbelt, and giving this education to students in an interactive fun way that we are building skills for students and really helping them understand the importance of safe driving.”
In order to incentivize participation from students — with the help of the parent teacher association at Battle Mountain, Vail Health at Eagle Valley and community partners at both schools — students were able to enter raffles for a variety of prizes. The biggest one, Pisciotta said, was a chartered SUV donated by a local company, Mountain Adventure Charters for prom night. This prize was awarded to one student at each school.
Driving safe, not distracted
The fairs featured booths from many of the school district’s community partners and local emergency response agencies.
Participation at the two fairs came from the Colorado State Patrol, the Eagle County Sherriff’s Office, Gypsum Fire, Eagle River Fire Protection District, Eagle County Paramedics Services, High Rockies Harm Reduction, Mountain Youth’s Safe Driving Program, Alpine Driving School, Bright Future Foundation, Vail Health, Mind Springs Health, Your Hope Center and Sammie’s Sunshine.
As students moved throughout the fair at Battle Mountain on Wednesday, they interacted with the various community partners. Maggie Seldeen with High Rockies Harm Reduction provided education on tools like Narcan and fentanyl testing strips. Vail Health provided an introduction to its Stop the Bleed training. Colorado State Patrol officers showed students evidence and reports from a real car crash, while local firefighters used hydraulic rescue tools, also known as Jaws of Life, to simulate getting people out of a car.
The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office had a variety of goggles to demonstrate the dangers of driving under the influence of various substances. Ashley LaFleur, public information officer at the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, said that the biggest thing the department sees with young drivers is “distracted driving due to inexperience behind the wheel.”
“These types of events can help to provide education in a safe and controlled environment about different types of impaired driving as well as potential consequences,” LaFleur said. “Impairment isn’t limited to alcohol and drugs. If you’re really tired or maybe received a call with bad news, you’re not necessarily going to be completely alert. If you feel different, you drive different.”
At both high schools, LaFleur said the fairs enable students to learn these lessons, but also interact with the deputies.
“These conversations allow students to interact with law enforcement and ask questions in a safe space,” she said.
At Eagle Valley High School, Eves was approached by Senior Lydia Bloess who wanted to host a booth with nonprofit Sammie’s Sunshine, honoring a friend she lost in 2020 in a car accident.
Sammie’s mom started the nonprofit after her daughter was in a car accident and was ejected from the vehicle while not wearing a seatbelt and later died from her injuries. The nonprofit now focuses on providing education and awareness as well as offering support to families facing tragedies from auto accidents.
“I am a part of a civic engagement class and in that class, we’re supposed to do a passion project to try and change something in our community and I wanted to bring that drive safe aspect to our school because I feel like we don’t see any of it at all,” Bloess said, adding that she wanted to “spread some of Sammie Sunshine’s message and bring it to Eagle Valley.”
At the fair, Bloess focused her message on the importance of wearing seatbelts and the dangers of distracted driving.
“I wanted the main focus to be on safe driving, especially before prom because since we’re doing prom like 30 minutes away at 4 Eagle Ranch and students have to drive,” she said.
Bloess recognized that in sharing this message with her peers, she hoped it would sink in more.
“I think we hear it a lot from adults, to the point where we’ve just heard the same thing over and over again and I definitely am able to take things a lot more seriously when it’s from someone my own age,” Bloess said. “I think hearing a different perspective from that’s around the same age as you, definitely helps spread that message and helps you think about it even more.”
In addition to demonstrating and engaging students with the importance of safe driving, the fair also included demonstrations to bolster mental health, harm reduction, healthy relationships and more.
Jo Pennock, the youth advocacy manager at Bright Future Foundation, said they were taking the opportunity to share about their organization and talk about healthy relationships and violence in vehicles.
“They’ve been really engaged, which has been awesome, I feel like they’re learning a lot about what unhealthy behavior looks like, especially in the vehicle, what physical violence looks like, what emotional violence looks like. I feel like they’re learning about what we do and our role in the community,” Pennock said.
It was intentional to bring more aspects of mental health into the fair than these fairs typically did in the past, according to Eves.
“We brought in mental health because we’ve had some unfortunate circumstances throughout the last couple years of student death because of seatbelt issues or distracted driving or something along those lines,” Eves said.