Reality check for Minarets students

A horrifying April 14 automobile accident with one fatality - blood everywhere - first responders on the scene including Sierra Ambulance, CHP officers and rescue helicopter, Madera County Sheriff Deputies, and Cal Fire engines and crews. An arrest of a young man for suspicion of being under the influence of alcohol and or drugs - It looked like the real thing - but it wasn’t.

It was all an elaborate staged scene organized by three Minarets High School students to send a strong message to fellow students about the appalling consequences of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The entire Minarets student body was pulled from class to see the accident scene, complete with a bloodied student laying on the hood of one of the cars. She was airlifted, and was pronounced dead at the hospital. Other accident victims were taken by ambulance to a nearby volunteer fire department.

“I think what really surprised and moved me about Every 15 Minutes was the raw emotion,” senior Grant Hall said. “Being a participant I was overwhelmed by the realism of the accident. It was as if it had really happened. Some of the students were crying.”

In addition to Grant, other students who were part of the set-up accident scene on campus were Christian Matsumoto, Ashley Ortega, Maribeth Villanueva, and Miranda Gonzalez.

The students who spent six months organizing the elaborate details of the “Every 15 Minutes” program were seniors Sierra Osbourne, Meghan Benson, and Anna Rose Chaney.

Filming the whole ordeal were students Peter Dembach, and Mckenna Chase. Typically the film portion of the event costs about $5,000, but the Minarets students saved that expenses by doing all the filming.

The following day, a school assembly was held in the gym, where a mock funeral was held with a casket placed on the floor in the center of the gym.

The student body viewed an 18-minute video documenting the accident and what followed. Central Valley school teacher Andrea Castro, had a big impact on the students, sharing her experience of losing her parents to a DUI collision.

Her story resonated across the student body - as students could all relate to the fear of losing parents.

Scenes for the film were shot at Valley Children’s Hospital, Madera County Superior Court, and the CHP jail.

“Minarets has an excellent media program and in discussions with the faculty and advanced media students, the team decided to have an in-house media team create the video of the event,” Ching said. “This became a senior project for the two leaders of the film crew, who felt strongly that they could create a stronger impact with a student-created film, as they had a clearer idea of what would have greater effect on their classmates. Throughout the process we had two teams - the event organizers and the film crew - working in collaboration.”

“The Every 15 Minutes program was a tremendous success and went off smoothly,” said Principal Daniel Ching. “Not only was it very impactful for the student body, it helped promote collaboration and teamwork with outside agencies and community members. This program helped foster an ongoing dialogue around keeping students and the larger community safe.”

Ching said the school was were very fortunate to have outstanding support from CHP officers David Sweeney, and Johnny Fisher.

“They were instrumental in helping keep us on track and providing much needed guidance,” Ching said. “Overall, this was a student driven project - with support and guidance from school administration and our CHP partners.”

Minarets has a student body of 480 students, and Ching said it was decided to include the entire student body in the event.

“The Yosemite Lakes Community Church provided us with its youth group facility for our event overnight retreat,” Ching said. “Many people volunteered their time for this event from parents and teachers to an assistant district attorney and a superior court judge.”

“In conversations that day with parents, they felt very grateful for the event and felt like it was very valuable for their own families and the community,” Ching said. “Various community members in attendance commented on how powerful the event was. As an administration team, we believe that this helped open dialogue on campus regarding drug/alcohol use and driving safely.”

Ching said students were able to evaluate their own behavior and learn how to support their peers in maintaining safe behavior.

“As a school community we affirmed the importance of safe behavior on many levels and expect the benefits to be long-lasting,” Ching said.

See for video.