BARRHEAD - Barrhead Composite High School Grade 9 students learned the dangers of impaired drivers first-hand by watching a reenactment of a motor vehicle accident in the Bethel Pentecostal Church parking lot as part of the school's May 11 Reduction and Injury through Student Knowledge (RISK) day.
The school has been hosting a variation of the program before the Victoria Day long weekend since 1993, following several years when the school lost several students in alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents on the May holiday weekend. "The whole day is about risk reduction," BCHS student services coordinator Amber McGinn said, adding it is unrealistic to believe youth will abstain from alcohol and other substances. "It's not just about saying don't, don't, don't. It is about showing them the potential consequences of their decisions so they can make informed decisions."
McGinn was one of a trio of organizers from the school that also included school counsellor Daren Toivonen and the school resource officer RCMP Const. Karen Vicente.
They worked with the Barrhead CARES Coalition to create an itinerary or curriculum that they believed would have an impact on youth. Barrhead CARES is a coalition of community members who banded together in 2003, initially as the Barrhead and District Drug Coalition, to combat the problems associated with the effects of alcohol and drug use in the community. In 2012, the group changed its name to Barrhead CARES to reflect its growing mandate.
McGinn noted that the committee decided to tweak their regular program a bit, saying the old curriculum or format had grown stale and no longer resonated with area youths.
"It did not seem super relevant any more," she said. "It just didn’t seem to land with them, so we decided to do something different." Before the pandemic, the day started with the mock scenario of three students deciding to skip school to hang out at the splash park, which ended with one of the youths overdosing on an opioid, most likely fentanyl.
The youths would then move on to presentations at the Rose Garden Chapel, where funeral home staff (with the assistance of the Barrhead Victim Services) told students what it is like to deal with families after a loved one is involved in a fatal motor vehicle accident. Even with the change in the program, McGinn noted the students still received the same type of information, just presented differently.
For instance, she said students will still learn about the process of how emergency personnel deal with a death, but instead of it being at the funeral home, it would be during debriefing sessions with firefighters, police, EMS and victim services. In addition to the mock accident scenario and debriefing sessions, students participated in sessions about the dangers of drug and alcohol addiction with an Alberta Health Services counsellor, and the dangers of distracted driving, especially from texting, which was led by Vicente.
They also heard the personal stories of people who are dealing with the death of loved ones as the result of impaired ATV accidents, along with someone who is living with long-term injuries after being involved in an accident caused by an impaired driver.