SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — A new student-led campaign to promote traffic safety and end drunk and distracted driving has spread its wings, so to speak, at The Prout School.
Called the Youth Force Leadership Program, it emerged from a three-day summit hosted in August by the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association and attended by students from around the state. Four from Prout attended.
“The goal of Youth Force is to spread an awareness around our school to get people to make good decisions,” senior Mike Slusarczyk, from South Kingstown, said. “There’s so many bad things that go on around our world, and we’re trying to start here in our own school community to make good decisions, and we specifically focus on traffic safety and keeping the roads safe against drunk and distracted driving.”
In the North Commons area of Prout hangs a new banner, created at the summer Youth Force summit by students from around the state. It depicts a large pair of wings spread wide, and bearing feathers created by each of the 90 student attendees from more than 20 state schools.
Each feather holds a student’s written pledge about how they’re going to keep roads safe in Rhode Island.
“I pledge to never drive if my passengers aren’t buckled,” Slusarczyk wrote.
“I’m committed to creating a safer roadside community,” Junior Drew Brouillette wrote.
The banner will hang at Prout during October, and the Catholic co-educational high school is the first school in the state to host it. Next month will be South Kingstown High School.
Prout’s Youth Force of about 40 students held a meeting Tuesday at the school. Formerly known as SADD, or Students Against Destructive Decisions, the group changed its name and focus this year to emphasize empowering the students and letting them take on leadership roles, while also forming strong bonds of friendship.
“We also take a broad perspective and try to get the community to make good decisions as a whole,” Slusarczyk, who went to the summit, said.
Rebecca White, the statewide coordinator for the Youth Force Leadership Program, came to Tuesday’s gathering to meet with the students and share her background, along with ideas for the group and to hear why students joined.
As a girl in October 1999, White was traveling in a car involved in a crash caused by a drunk driver. The crash killed White’s mother, who was driving, and the youngster’s best friend, Katie DeCubellis. DeCubellis was a 13-year-old eighth-grade student at the Pier School in Narragansett.
The drunk driver slammed into the back of their car on Route 4.
“After that I felt lost, like I didn’t have a voice on these issues,” White said.
She got involved with the Narragansett chapter of SADD, and found her voice in prevention through the program, she said.
“I never want anyone to go through what my family has gone through. Just one life lost is too much,” she said.
White also helped the Prout students announce the new awareness campaign, #wingsofchange, which will have a strong social media presence.
“It’s all about traffic safety awareness,” she said. “It’s a great social media way of getting our message out there and it’s a fun way to introduce our missions of leadership and traffic safety.”
After the fall campaign, White said the Youth Force will shift its focus in the spring to marijuana use and driving.
The students who attended the summer summit told their peers about its benefits. They spoke about the new friendships they made and the fun in thinking up and creating a new awareness campaign.
“Everything was so fun and you just got to meet so many different people,” senior Madison Gioffruda said. Gioffruda said the attendees also made a “really fun” video as well, that will debut in November.
“We did a lot of workshops but also had a ton of fun events, a dance, a really nice dinner,” Slusarczyk said. “I can definitely say I’m still in contact with all the people I met at the summit. I came away with a lot of good leadership skills that I’m excited to use in the future.”