GREENDALE - "Is one night really worth a life?"
Twenty Greendale High School students wore that question on the back of their black T-shirts Wednesday, May 17, the same day the student body struggled with the question through a first-hand experience.
For the school's "Every 15 Minutes" program that day, 900 students at the school saw their peers act out a live simulation of the aftermath of a car accident caused by drunken driving.
The scene began as student volunteers lifted off a tarp from two salvaged cars, seeming to have been bent out of shape by the "collision" that happened moments ago.
Students looked on as two of their peers got out of the car, examining the destruction around them: the driver in the other car was unconscious; their friend in the backseat of the car couldn't feel her legs; and one student hung out of the back window lifelessly, fake blood dripping down the car.
Barriers blocked off Southway, the street the high school is on, so that a Greendale fire truck, police car and ambulance, as well as the Milwaukee County medical examiner, could reach the crash site in the middle of the road.
As the drama unfolded, paramedics showed up to help the injured, and the fire department cut the unconscious driver out of her car. The police also spoke with the driver who caused the accident, who said she had been drinking.
By the end of the simulation, two students were taken to the hospital, one was taken to the coroner, and the driver was taken to the police station.
While the entire scene was staged, the hope was that the impact would be very real.
"That visualization and impact of seeing someone that they know ... it brings it a little closer to home," said Greendale High School Principal Steve Lodes. "Hopefully that reality will influence their decisions in the future."
In addition to the simulation, one student was taken out of a class every 15 minutes of the school day as the assistant principal read their fictitious obituaries and facts about drunken driving. This was meant to further symbolize the statistic of one person dying every 15 minutes in a car crash.
The students returned later, acting as the "living dead," with black T-shirts and white face paint. They did not speak the rest of the day.
Though the rate of alcohol-related traffic fatalities has decreased in most recent data, the message is still important.
"This is to show people that this isn't something that just happens to other people," said senior GHS student Logan Groh. "It's important to have that realistic aspect so that people could relate."
The following morning, the students held an assembly to talk about the aftermath of an incident such as the one portrayed the previous day. Videos showed the party before the accident and the consequences of the night's events.
They even brought in the real parents of the students to further drive home the potential realness of drunken driving incident.
"It's a real emotional feeling to have your child participate in something like this," said Kevin Miller, the father of Nicole Miller, who played the student who was riding in the car and got paralyzed.
"It got to be real at the hospital," said her mother, Dawn Miller, describing the scene in the video where they were with their daughter after the accident, learning about her condition.
"You didn't even really need to act," added Kevin. "The emotion came naturally."
To make this experience as seemingly real as it was, it took nearly a year to plan.
However, the details that were added, like involving the students' actual parents, tried to make the experience all the more impactful.
"The silence of 900-plus students in an assembly speaks volumes," said Holly Miller, the GHS Teens with Impact advisor. "Both assemblies elicited a strong emotional response that can only be obtained through powerful connections with their own choices and experiences.
"From our point on the stage, it was obvious the impact of the words of our speakers and the video presentation."