When Officer Joey Cardenas delivered mock death notifications to parents of Delhi High School students on Tuesday as part of the anti-drunk driving Every 15 Minutes program, it was a very real experience for him personally, the parent of a former participant.
Cardenas is the school resource officer at DHS and a coordinator of the Every 15 Minutes program, which took place at the school on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. A significant experience for students, the program creates a very real impression on student participants, their families and their peers despite the fact that the program is a simulated experience. Cardenas' first -hand experience as a parent of a participant has not only deepened the impact of the program for him, but also deepened his empathy for the parents to whom he must notify.
"Even when they know it's coming it still has an impact," said Cardenas. "I've done this program all over the county, seen it a lot and it's new every time."
Every 15 Minutes is a high school program through the California Highway Patrol that involves students in a mock drunk driving accident, the wreckage of which their peers witness as the students in the crash are airlifted and driven away in ambulances to the local hospital. While one student plays the drunk driver that "kills" three others students, one student is also removed from class every 15 minutes that day as a symbol of the statistic that a life is claimed from a drunk driving accident every 15 minutes. The next day, the student body congregates at a rally where footage of the accident is replayed, parents read letters they have written to the children they have lost and student participants also read letters to their parents.
It is the time between the accident and the rally that is the most harrowing as Cardenas goes from home to home to notify parents that their child will not be returning after school or ever again. Parents' reaction to the notification of death varies, but the pain is universal. While parents are coping with the idea of losing their child, the participants are taken on a retreat for the night where they are given more in depth information on drunk driving accidents. This year, a woman from the Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, program spoke to the DHS participants about her experience losing her sister and brother-in-law in a drunk driving accident.
"I stay with the kids at the retreat and I get to know them pretty well. The next day at the assembly I can see how important this lesson is becoming to them as they read their letters. I can see that they really get a lot out of this," said Cardenas.
Although the program is designed to hit home for the students, they are not the only ones who walk away affected by the gravity of the program each time it is performed. Cardenas met with collaborators and students from the leadership class at Delhi High School each month starting in October to prepare for the program, all of whom were eager to do their part to make the experience authentic for the DHS students. The collaborators, including Emanuel Medical Center, Delhi Fire Department, emergency medical responders in ambulances and a helicopter, CHP, Wilson's Funeral Home and more, were prepared to play their part, knowing the life-saving ability of the program.
“I'm fortunate in that I have done several of these programs and the people that I work with have also done several so they really know their role in it. Everyone comes together and works hard to give these kids a real experience,” said Cardenas.