NEWCASTLE – A girls kneels sobbing over the body of a boy she was friends with while emergency responders race to the scene after hearing the tone go out for a vehicle crash. As high school freshman and sophomores from Upton, Wright, Lusk and Newcastle look on, emergency responders and law enforcement “work the scene” of the crash including speaking with the sobbing girl and ultimately arresting her for drunk driving as she watches EMTs place the body of her friend in an ambulance. This was just one part of the day that teens experienced during their Freshman Impact program held at Newcastle high school on May 4. Its as a graphic and jarring demonstration and one that organizers, parents and educators hope teens will remember long after they return home at the end of the day.
The statistics show that in the state of Wyoming 71.8% of the students surveyed in grades nine through twelve have consumed alcohol. 23.1% of all alcohol sold was consumed by minors. Likewise, 1 in 12 teens have experienced teen dating violence and hospitalizations for self harm and attempted suicide have risen 40% in the last two years.
All of these topics and more were discussed with student attendees at the Freshman Impact program as well.
Students learned about dating violence and healthy relationships, sexting, sexual violence and exploitation, suicide, emergency medical services, crash response by fire departments, drunk driving and seat belt safety, drug use and consequences and under age drinking consequences.
All stations were designed to address very real problems in today’s youth. Every presenter, an expert in their field, emphasized that sitting in the group was at least one, if not more, students who were dealing with the very topic being discussed. The provided not just information but resources and reassurance for those present.
The common theme at all presentations was, “We know you are struggling, we aren’t here to punish but to help, please let us before it is too late.”
Members of local emergency response crews as well as police, fire and sheriff from neighboring counties were all present to help with the day. Lisa Williams has been coordinating Freshman Impact for years after helping to bring it into Wyoming from South Dakota. It takes a massive number of man hours and resources to bring a day like this together. Representatives from mental health, Division of Criminal Investigation, law enforcement, victim advocacy and more were all present to try and help students understand that they are not alone and have so many people rooting for them and wanting to help them make good choices.
Guest speakers included the family of a trooper who was hit head on by a drunk driver but lived thanks to his seatbelt but the massive number of obstacles that resulted for him as well as an inmate from the Wyoming Honor Camp in Newcastle.
The purpose wasn’t a “scared straight” perspective but more of a, now you know, so make better choices angle. As one presenter put it, “Make a choice right now that you won’t let yourself or your friends go through something like this. Find a trusted adult and act, don’t wait until you have regrets.”