Paige Parrott is becoming an expert in blood.
Tuesday she was busy creating fake blood in her kitchen by mixing corn syrup and red and black food coloring until she got two hues to represent old blood and fresh blood. She then poured the gooey mess all over the heads and bodies of her “victims” as preparation for the simulated car crash that is the key component of the Every 15 Minutes program.
As the make-up artist for the Hilmar High School Every 15 Minutes program, Parrott was charged with the integral role of painting the gory reality of the aftermath of a car crash with the students as her canvas. As a theater arts teacher at Delhi High School, where she performs the same role for the high school’s bi-annual program, Parrott understands the importance that the accident and the wounds appears genuine in order to have a profound effect on the students involved and witnessing the program.
“I want this to be as real as possible. If it’s not real to the kids they don’t take it as seriously, they think it’s just some movie” explained Parrott.
Every 15 Minutes is a program high schools apply for through a grant through the California Highway Patrol. The two-day event involves actual 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 the day that students witness the "accident" 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 or “funeral” for the students 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.
While the program lasts two days, the aim is to generate a lifetime awareness of the risks of drinking and driving and the production takes several months to put together. According to Dianna de Matos, the Hilmar High leadership class advisor whose class helps coordinate the actual event, monthly meetings between the school, police officers and emergency personnel began last summer and continued until now.
“It is still a task to coordinate the event but everyone is so willing to help. They see the good that this program does and the community donates their time and money as well,” said Moises Onsurez, public information officer for the California Highway Patrol.
The program also requires preparation on behalf of the parents as they gear up to emotionally endure the simulated loss of a child. While many parents are apprehensive for their students to participate in the program, they typically yield once they realize the profound impact it has on the students.
“It’s a sacrifice. They are allowing themselves to go through these emotions of losing a child but I think that they realize how beneficial the program is and they believe in it,” said Onsurez.
Several students also experienced some degree of reluctance once chosen for the program out of concern for the serious subject matter and the affect it would have on them personally and their peers. Rather than hiring performers for students to watch, what makes the Every 15 Minutes program so effective is that it becomes interactive by nature of using actual students at each high school.
“At first I didn’t really want to do it. It stressful to act in front of all of your friends and being chosen as the drunk driver kind of made me nervous because I’m not sure what that says about me to other people,” said Tyler Robinson, a senior at Hilmar High.
Robinson was not alone in his reservations as Taylor Pieres, one of the ‘Living Dead’ who was pulled out of class every 15 minutes, spoke with her parents several times before committing to the program.
“My cousin is in the car crash and I didn’t know if I wanted to be involved at first. I had to talk to my family multiple times. I was just nervous thinking about what my family would do and the real effect it would have,” said Pieres.
This real effect is one of the major reasons why Hilmar High School has continued to apply for the Every 15 Minutes grant through the California Highway Patrol each year. According to Principal Bret Theodozio, the significant psychological impact on the students can play an integral role in their choices outside of the school campus.
“We want it to be as real as possible for them to feel the maximum impact of these situations without really experiencing it,” said Theodozi. “We want to provide them this experience to keep them safe and so they will realize the consequences of their actions. There are temptations out there and we want this to resonate with them so that they make good choices in the moment.”