DIXFIELD — Rumford police Chief Stacy Carter continues to hear that some parents believe drinking parties, particularly near graduation time, are somehow a rite of passage.
He, the RSU 10 board, emergency responders and others from the community aim to change that belief with a dramatic, and oftentimes emotional new program called “Every 15 Minutes.” It will take place at Mountain Valley High School in May.
The program’s name comes from the statistic that every 15 minutes, someone dies in an alcohol-related vehicle accident.
Sometime in May, the parents of up to 25 Mountain Valley High School students will be notified by police or clergy that their child has been killed in an alcohol-related auto accident.
From there, students and parents are expected to go through an emotional roller-coaster that includes “living dead” students writing thoughts that they were never able to tell their parents and others close to them, obituaries of the “living dead” students, a school assembly with caskets for the “living dead,” and myriad other heart-wrenching events that could happen if a child was actually killed in an auto-accident.
The RSU 10 board on Monday agreed with Carter that more needs to be done to try to prevent alcohol use, and the subsequent possibility that someone could be killed, by approving the plan that will take four months to put together.
“This is a powerful program that affects students and the community. I hear too much that some parents believe it’s a right of passage, that it’s OK. It’s not,” Carter said.
Sgt. Tracey Higley, who is also a school board member, said he hears often that actions are important to make a difference in one life.
“This program is meant to make a huge difference in a lot of lives,” he said.
Carter said he expects to hear complaints from some parents about the program. He has already received approval from the Rumford Board of Selectman, and said the community and parents involved will know ahead of time that their child has been selected to take part.
“It is dramatic, but it’s our best way to get the community talking. These kids will talk about it. The community will be abuzz. If that’s what it takes to change the culture, I think we need that,” he said.
Board member Linda Westleigh said it is not just students who think a serious accident will never happen to them, but some parents believe their children would never be involved in drinking.
MVHS Principal Matt Gilbert said counselors will be available for members of the community who are affected by the program, particularly those who may have been touched by fatal or serious-injury accidents.
The Every 15 Minutes Program has been used in other parts of the state and country. It will be launched under the Keeping Students Safe program that has been in effect for nearly five years at MVHS.
Parents and students who take part will be volunteers. Higley said the committee, which includes MVHS math teacher Lisa Russell, will try to use students who could make the greatest impact on their peers.
Board Chairman Jerry Wiley said he’d like to see the program used in all three high schools, which also include Buckfield Junior-Senior High School and Dirigo High School, but he agreed that because of the amount of time and work needed to implement the program, it would be best to use just one high school at first.
Superintendent Tom Ward said introducing the program into just one high school is the best choice right now.
“This is massive. It is a culmination of five years work,” he said, referring to the amount of effort that Gilbert, assistant Principal Chris Decker and others at MVHS who have developed the Keeping Students Safe program.