Essentia Health Registered Nurse Sherry Jipson (left) joins Graceville High School students and their counselor during last week's "Ghost Out," a program that focused on reckless and drunk driving.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says traffic crashes are the number one killer of teens and more than one-third of teen traffic deaths are alcohol-related nationwide. Those sobering statistics are why Essentia Health recently teamed up with the Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley School District on an educational program about the consequences of drunk driving as well as reckless and distracted driving.
Called "A Ghost Out," the day-long program at Graceville High School involved students, school counselors, the Big Stone County Sheriff's Department, a local funeral home, emergency medical technicians and Essentia Health Registered Nurse Sherry Jipson. The program helped address a key finding from Essentia Health-Graceville's most recent Community Health Needs Assessment, which identified binge drinking as a concern for local residents.
Jipson dressed as the Grim Reaper and, throughout the day, she sought out students in the hallways – who were notified ahead of time that they would be "victims" of drunk driving or distracted driving accidents. The students then painted their faces white and wouldn't speak with their friends. They also wrote their own obituaries, which focused on the consequences of their behavior, such as texting and driving or driving while intoxicated. At the end of the school day, there was an all-student assembly, where the sheriff's department, EMTs and Mundwiller Funeral Home staff talked about the toll of such tragedies.
"Our message to the students was to never drink and drive. They should stay where they are or call a friend or loved one for a ride. As for distracted driving, they need to keep their phones and backpacks in the back seat of their car," Jipson says. "There were tears and strong emotions at the assembly. It's vital in our role that we help educate our young people to make responsible decisions."
There have been 14 distracted driving deaths in Big Stone County over the last few years. With such a small population in the rural county, each fatality sends ripples through families and close-knit communities. "It was an emotional event for the students and the impact was huge," says Julie Rosenberg, who serves as administrator of Essentia's Graceville facilities.