Freshmen Impact is a powerful, one-day event that shows young high schoolers the dangers of drinking, texting while driving, and other peer-pressured situations they might encounter as they navigate through their high school years.
By COLE BENZ | Herald Editor
Freshmen Impact is a powerful, one-day event that shows young high schoolers the dangers of drinking, texting while driving, and other peer-pressured situations they might encounter as they navigate through their high school years. On Wednesday, Sept. 14, freshmen from Faith, Macintosh, Lemmon, Bison, Dupree, Newell, Harding County, New England, Scranton, Hettinger, Mott, Timber Lake, and Grant County—about 250-300 students according to Hettinger guidance counselor Darin Seamands—attended the event.
Started by a state trooper and a deputy in South Dakota some time ago, an organization named C.O.R.E. (Community Organized Resources in Educating youth) operates the event throughout the state. And for the past three years, Lemmon has hosted an event and welcomed other area schools to attend.
Northern Plains Coordinator, and state trooper, Chris Goldsmith said the first event featured five schools, now that number is 14.
Goldsmith said this event is different from other awareness-based events in how life like they make it.
“We try to make it as realistic as we possibly can,” Goldsmith said.
The morning features seven different sessions that include, among others, behind the wheel driving with alcohol-impaired like googles, suicide prevention and team building exercises—25 minutes for each session.
Following a lunch, the students listen to speaker. This year Keith Johnson, a supervisor with the South Dakota Department of Transportation, was on hand to tell his story. Johnson lost his son because of a drunk driving accident.
Though the mini sessions are important, the real impact is from the dramatization in the afternoon.
A group of upperclassmen got together to enact a scenario with real-life consequences. The scene begins at a high school football game, and a group of students are drinking. The group then leaves the game, getting behind the wheel after having consumed alcohol. The driver, who also drank alcohol, begins texting while she’s driving and runs into the back of a grain truck.
The students hear the mock-911 call over the speakers, as if they were listening to a real emergency call.
Students are led outside where they are immediately at the scene of the accident. Things got pretty real from there. A life-flight helicopter came to the scene and picked up a victim, firefighters and EMTs then tended to the other victims at the scene. So what made this so life-like?
Every volunteer was real life emergency worker. No fakes or actors, they actually perform these duties in real life.
“I think the biggest thing our kids got from that is that we all talk about ‘this will never happen to me, this is something that happens to other people,’” said Dave Erickson of Hettinger, who was a first time chaperone for the event. “And I think that seeing those different things happening, they see how quickly accidents can happen and how final they are.”
Following the emergency scene, students are led back into the building where they are immediately witnessing a funeral, equipped with the presence of a real-life casket. A scene that certainly made the room quiet.
Hettinger senior Sam Reuther said the room was very somber.
Reuther, who played the driver, was then put on trial. A judge and attorneys—who are actually judges and attorneys in real life—were reenacting a real-life courtroom scene, where Reuther was being charged.
“They try to get the real thing, so if it’s an attorney, it’s a real attorney, it’s a real judge, it’s not someone pretending to be a judge, these are the real people,” Seamands said.
The whole scene was impactful, Reuther said, even to those who were actors in the scenario.
“It was life changing,” Reuther said. “I made an impact on all nine of [the other actors], and all nine of them made an impact on me,” Reuther said.
Hettinger’s Randy Burwick, who was attending the event for the first time as a chaperone, said that it was his son’s reaction last year that made him want to go this time.
“The reason I really wanted to go was because last year Kyle was a freshman, and boy I’ll tell you what, it really made an impact on him,” Burwick said.
The first thing he was asked after he got off the bus on Wednesday was “how was it,” by his son. “That was the first thing he asked me,” Burwick said. “I thought it was just fantastic.”
Seamands, who did not attend this year to let others go, said that he hasn’t seen a presentation like this one.
“I’ve never seen one single presentation have that power,” Seamands said. “That’s how powerful it is.”
Seamands wanted to commend all of the volunteers that put hard work and time to making sure the event went perfect, adding that it takes many agencies working together.
“It almost warms your heart,” Seamands said. “It’s like ‘yeah, that’s why we live in a small town.’”