When it comes to getting teens to buckle up, Belton High School is ready for the challenge.
The school’s Service-Learning group recently helped the school earn a $3,700 grant from Project Ignition and the National Youth Leadership Council. Belton is one of just six high schools nationwide to get the honor.
Mary Cummings, who teaches gifted education at the school, leads Service-Learning. She said the school won another grant from Project Ignition several years ago, and that’s part of why it’s back with the program now.
“Our first time, it was kind of a fluke. We were talking in my gifted English class, and the students were questioning new driver’s licensing laws,” Cummings said. “They started looking at all these statistics (about teen accidents), and they said, ‘We need to help our district.’”
Next year, students will use this year’s experiences to help students at another nearby school figure out how to implement their own teen safety programs.
One of the ways Service-Learning is promoting teen safety at Belton High is by performing random seatbelt checks on teen drivers when they arrive at school. These checks happen on unannounced mornings.
Students wearing their seatbelts get Smarties candies, while the others get Dum Dums lollipops.
This is part of the Missouri Department of Transportation’s Battle of the Belt Challenge, which pits Missouri high schools against each other to see which one has the highest percentage of students wearing seatbelts when they come to school.
The Missouri Coalition For Roadway Safety’s website said that 67 percent of Missouri’s teens wear seatbelts. Of those teens killed in motor vehicle crashes last year, the coalition said, 70 percent were not buckled up.
Project Ignition lists risk-taking, faulty judgment and inexperience as some of the causes for teen roadway fatalities.
“A lot of students I know don’t think seatbelts are important, and they text and drive ... Those things are incredibly dangerous,” said Maeghan Thomas, a Belton High School senior. “We have the ability to effect change ... and teach others how to be safe on the road ... and not cause an accident that changes their life forever. We need to be a shining example.”
One of the ways Thomas tries to be an example is by refusing to drive friends anywhere until everyone in her car is wearing a seatbelt.
“If I’m in the car with another person (who is driving), if they want to get on their phone, I say, ‘Can I do that for you?’ or I ask if we can do that later. You have to be responsible for your friends and family,” she said.
Service-Learning will also be organizing a summit on teen safety with the Cass County Health Department and the Belton CARES coalition. Club members hope to meet with other students from all over the county to see what issues they have in common and discuss ways to fix them.
The club will use some of the funds from its grant to bring in Pam Holt as a pre-prom speaker. Holt has experience working with juvenile traffic offenders.
At that time, the students will also stage a mock car crash scene to illustrate the dangers teens face on the road.
The funds will also help five members of Service-Learning attend the national Service-Learning conference next April in Washington, D.C., where they’ll present the results of their efforts to draw attention to seatbelts and other teen safety issues.