PREBLE COUNTY — In a collaboration between Preble County Sheriff Mike Simpson, Chief Deputy Mike Spitler, and district administration, Preble County schools recently offered a Texting and Driving and OVI driving course through their School Resource Officer (SRO) programs.
Students were given two different tasks: in one; they had to drive a golf cart while texting “on my way,” in the other; they had to drive a path while wearing goggles that simulate impairment. Both paths were lined with cones they had to avoid. For every cone a student hit, it represented a person killed by reckless driving. The course was meant to teach students not to drive while distracted or under the influence.
The following schools have already hosted their driving course: Preble Shawnee on Wednesday, Sept. 25 and Thursday, Sept. 26, Twin Valley South on Friday, Sept. 27, National Trail Local School District on Tuesday, Oct. 8 and Wednesday, Oct. 9, and Eaton Community Schools on Tuesday, Oct. 1 and Wednesday, Oct. 2.
Tri-County North was not able to schedule a course for this year, but hopes to participate in future years.
According to Preble Shawnee Jr/Sr High School SRO Deputy Greg McWhinney, this effort was a collaboration between Sheriff Simpson, Chief Deputy Spitler, and the Preble County districts administration. It was left up to the specific SROs how they wanted to set up the course and any speakers they wanted to bring in, but the efforts were collaborative and planned by the parties mentioned above.
“We all work together, the best that we can,” McWhinney said.
Including, he added, the City of Eaton and Village of Lewisburg who provide SROs for their specific districts. The other Preble County school districts have officers employed through the Preble County Sheriff’s Department – though Preble Shawnee also has an officer employed through Camden Police Department.
“We wanted to talk to the kids about texting and drinking and driving. We thought, sitting in the classroom, we can do that, but from the beginning of time we’ve done that. [Spitler] and [Simpson] came up with the idea, why don’t we put this to a practical experience?” McWhinney said.
From there, they reached out to the district SROs and started planning for the course.
For Preble Shawnee’s event, they decided to offer the course to student drivers only. Juniors went through the course on Wednesday and Seniors on Thursday.
The students had fun during the course at Preble Shawnee. They joked with Deputy McWhinney and laughed as they tried to drive the golf cart, but there was a serious component to the course as well.
In both the OVI course and the Texting and Driving Course the intention was to get through without hitting a cone, however, most of the students hit cones, which represented people. As they finished the course and looked at how many cones they hit, it was clear the implications of the course set in.
Those could have been people they hit, instead of just cones.
“We explained to them in the very beginning that it was a very serious event. We were doing it with a practical purpose to show them texting and driving and wearing the OVI goggles – we told them, this is serious, but you want them to have fun as well,” McWhinney said.
“We wanted them to have a good time, but all the way, we drove home the message: every cone they hit could have been someone’s family member or a mailbox that would have caused property damage. All the way through the event, we tried to drive home the message: what they were experiencing had serious consequences when they struck cones.
“We wanted them to have a good time, but we also wanted them to understand there was a message there. When they hit a cone, it represented something.”
He added, he hopes the course taught the students to think before texting and driving or driving under the influence. He believes interactive courses like this helps “drive home a message” more than just teaching the same lessons in a classroom.
At time of press, Twin Valley South SRO Deputy Dale Boyd added, “The objective of the program was to create a fun and interactive way to get a very important message across to the kids. We did this by first discussing the dangers of texting and driving and driving while intoxicated. We shared various statistics and stories from our experiences to help put things into perspective for the students.
“Our stories from our experiences hit close to home and I believe really opened the eyes of the students, because an instance where texting and driving resulted in a fatal crash happened on the road where students enter the school every morning no more than two miles from the school.”
For Deputy Boyd, it is a matter of saving lives – he believes they need to teach students not to drive while impaired or distracted, so innocent lives aren’t lost in another accident.
“I believe that this exercise is extremely important for the kids to take part in because they need to realize that these terrible crashes are happening all around them and that it could happen to them too. We held this program on homecoming week so that it was fresh in their minds (the consequences and statistics and stories) going into the weekend where they would attend their homecoming dance and hang out with their friends after,” he said.
“The exercise makes them realize how distracted they can really be on their phones and how dangerous it truly is. When they felt the cart hit the cones, it kind of gave them all a shock factor of, ‘Oh my gosh I actually hit something.’ We cannot stress enough how important it is for the kids to hear this message and to know how dangerous these actions truly are so that we can save as many lives as we can.”
He was assisted by Detective Shane Hatfield.
At time of press, Eaton High School Principal Scott Couch said, “We did our training on Oct. 1 and 2, which was during homecoming week. We sent students from study hall and various classes in an attempt to get as many students involved in the training as possible. Officer Anthony Schmidt does a great job of interacting with the students at EHS, and it was no different during this program.”
Eaton SRO Schmidt said the course was only possible due to the collaboration effort put forth by the Preble County Sheriff’s Office, Laura Cruea with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Eaton Community School District, and Eaton Police Division.
He added, “[The Texting and Driving and OVI course] was a great success.”
“The students were educated on the dangers of texting and being impaired while driving. The students were provided verbal instruction which included stats and real world examples followed by a simulated driving experience,” Schmidt said.
“I truly believe the students walked away with enough knowledge that will make them think twice before texting and or drinking when getting behind the wheel.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH