Cuthbertson, Sun Valley promote safe driving through Allstate grant

Students at Cuthbertson High School pass out information on staying safe on the roads during prom and sign the “prom promise.”

Two Union County schools are teaming up with the Allstate Foundation and Students Against Violence Everywhere, Inc. (SAVE) to promote safe driving among students.

Sun Valley High School in Indian Trail and Cuthbertson High School in Waxhaw recently received $1,000 grants from the Allstate Foundation for the schools’ SAVE chapters. The funds can be used in a number of ways to encourage teen safety both on and off the roads.

“Allstate gives us the flexibility to use (the grant) in areas with the most need as long as we’re still meeting their criteria with safe driving campaigns throughout the year,” Cuthbertson High’s SAVE advisor Leah Ross said.

Schools receive the first half of the grant at the beginning of the school year. They then fill out a preliminary report and, if they’ve met Allstate’s requirements, receive the other $500.

The 2012-13 school year marks the fourth time Sun Valley High has received the grant. The grant started out at $500 each year, but Allstate upped the amount to $1,000 last year.

“It’s actually a wonderful thing for our club and we can use it for so many purposes here at the school,” said Jim Williams, advisor to both the SAVE and Students Against Destructive Decisions clubs at Sun Valley.

So far this year, Sun Valley’s SAVE chapter has promoted safe lifestyles among students with the annual “Mix it Up Day,” in which students learn tolerance through eating lunch with someone they don’t normally sit with.

Last month, the school also celebrated Red Ribbon Week by decorating the school with red ribbons, streamers, bows and posters. A guest was stationed at a booth during the school’s four lunch periods providing pamphlets with information on safe and text-free driving and encouraging students to sign a drug-free pledge.

“Red Ribbon Week is a weeklong celebration of drug-free and safe schools,” Williams said. “We did the drug-free pledges because being drug free behind the wheel is just as important as being text free. We hope it alerts students to the dangers of drugs and alcohol as well as distractible driving.”

This is the third year Cuthbertson High has received the grant. In the past, the school has put the funds toward safe driving campaigns, seatbelt checks and the annual “prom promise” – a pledge students sign, vowing to stay safe and avoid drinking and driving on prom night.

During seatbelt checks, members of SAVE hand out Smarties to student drivers who arrive at school wearing their seatbelts. Safe driving campaigns include posters, rubber bracelets and rings to remind students to make wise decisions behind the wheel and refrain from texting while driving.

The school also arranges for a wrecked car to be placed on campus around prom as a solemn reminder of the dangers of drinking, texting and not paying attention while driving.

“When a company like Allstate puts money in our hands and says, ‘Find creative ways to get that message across and keep kids safe,’ they give us a way to fund that opportunity to take that message to another level,” Ross said.

Since Cuthbertson began receiving the grants, the school’s SAVE chapter has expanded to reach students outside the school and focus on other areas of student safety, as well. Ross said the club plans to visit New Town Elementary School later this month to give anti-bullying presentations to fourth- and fifth-graders at the school.

“I really believe now, especially with new technology, one of the biggest problems our kids face today is learning how to interact well with each other and not use that technology to hurt each other,” Ross said.

She said one of the activities SAVE club members plan to do with the elementary students involves crumpling a piece of paper, trying to smooth it out and comparing the damaged paper to how words can cause permanent emotional harm.

“That’s a huge thing for us, getting outside of our comfort zone and interacting with people of all ages,” Ross said. “I truly believe we don’t need to insulate just the high schools. We need to go across to elementary schools and middle schools to do community service. Maybe there wouldn’t be as many kids committing suicide if we start (anti-bullying education) early.”

Sun Valley plans to continue using its grant to promote teen safety throughout the year, including a major “X the TXT” event in the spring where students will sign a thumbprint pledge and vow not to text behind the wheel.

Williams believes these campaigns are essential to spread safe driving awareness throughout the school.

“We tell students to be safe during prom night. Just because you’re safe doesn’t mean those out on the road will be, so you have to be a defensive driver,” he said. “It’s very crucial. I feel like it’s very helpful to students if they learn good habits about being safe in their schools and extracurricular activities.”

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