On Nov. 29, 2022, Menlo held an assembly discussing the important issue of distracted driving. Sophomores through seniors attended the assembly, as many ninth graders do not have a driver’s license yet.
In the years prior to COVID-19, the administration usually had a two-year driving safety curriculum attended by sophomores and juniors. The first year was heavily focused on distracted driving and the second year was followed by the impaired driving curriculum.
Upper School Counselor Jake Fauver has been tweaking the overall driving-related curriculum for multiple years in preparation for this assembly. Before the pandemic, the administration brought in a two-day comprehensive lesson plan called Every 15 Minutes. The school moved away from the organization because they felt it did not fit their goals. “They would bring a wrecked car to campus, and it was just a big production and really over the top,” Fauver said.
Now, the school has moved to Impact Teen Drivers, the organization that came to the recent distracted driving assembly. The program had been well reviewed and received by many schools and districts, according to Fauver.
Impact Teen Drivers has a message that Fauver values, and the program is free of charge to high schools. The organization gets enough funding from donors and the California Highway Patrol to operate free of cost. “We have appreciated partnering with them as a whole, so that has made the decision [to remain with the program] fairly clear,” Fauver said.
Tonya Gonzalez was the main speaker in the distracted driving assembly. She met the director of Impact Teen Drivers, Dr. Kelly Browning, in 2019 and has worked at the organization ever since. She joined because she knew that the work was important and stayed once she met more people within Impact Teen Drivers. “Everybody’s so passionate about what they do and I think that’s what brought me into wanting to do it,” Gonzalez said.
Impact Teen Drivers does hundreds of presentations at assemblies or even in classroom settings across schools in California. Gonzalez covers the Northern California region for these presentations, going all the way up to Humbolt and down to Modesto and Monterey.
The organization focuses on education, but also on empowering young people to find strong strategies to make good choices, including following the Graduated Driver Licensing Laws that Gonzalez highlighted in the assembly. There has been up to a 40% decrease in serious injuries and fatalities for young drivers since the GDL laws, according to Gonzalez.
Gonzalez wanted students to realize the importance of the GDL laws and making safe choices, such as putting on a seatbelt. “We want young people to understand that these […] are not a way to limit freedoms, but really to limit those higher risk experiences behind the wheel.”
Gonalez’s message was heard by a larger audience this year. Seniors attended the assembly with the two grades below them because they missed their distracted driving assembly their sophomore year due to COVID-19. “We didn’t want [the seniors] to miss out on the messaging that we feel is important, so we included the seniors this year as well,” Upper School Counselor Jake Fauver said.