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Local YOVASO groups win top honors for their efforts

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    Students at Bedford County high schools and middle schools have made a point this year of letting their classmates know the importance of being safe when driving or riding in vehicle.

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    And those efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. The students have won numerous awards this year through the Youth of Virginia Speak Out (YOVASO) campaigns.
    Bedford County middle schools recently competed in the “Start Smart” competition and the high schools competed in “BUDS”— Buckle Up, Drive Sober, both sponsored by YOVASO.
    The Forest Middle School “YOVASO KNIGHTS” club, led by SRO Deputy Randy Smith and teachers Cory Fairchild and Stacy Amaya-Diaz, is made up of 30 students who campaigned throughout their school and community, raising awareness about the dangers of distracted driving, being a distracting passenger and the urgent need to buckle up every time anyone gets behind the wheel.
    The YOVASO KNIGHTS got their points across, covering a vast majority of the Forest population by utilizing signs on roads, billboards, passing out information cards during sporting events, during school rush hours and conducting speaking events reaching out to all grades throughout the Forest schools about these safety issues.
    “It’s great to see these young people taking such an active and early interest in these safety issues,” stated Deputy Smith, SRO at Forest Middle. “These campaigns are an excellent tool to make our youth aware of the seriousness of safe driving, even before they are old enough to do so themselves.” 
    This is the first year YOVASO has involved middle-school aged students in driving safety campaigns.
    The Jefferson Forest High School YOVASO Club under the leadership of Cpl. Ryan Hilbish and Carole Skelly, teacher sponsor, again won first place in the  BUDS (Buckle Up Drive Sober) campaign.  The students presented an educational program for the student body and the PTA highlighting the dangers of drinking and texting while driving.  They also spoke with the groups about the risks involved while speeding.  This was done by power point, video and personal testimony.
    Fort Defiance High School in Augusta County was the statewide winner of the 2012 campaign . The school placed first in the campaign in the small school division, then defeated JF, the large school division winner, for the grand prize during an unannounced seat belt check by the Virginia State Police and YOVASO staff. Fort Defiance recorded a 98.8 percent seat belt use rate during the check, compared to Jefferson Forest’s 93.75 percent.
    Thirty-three schools in Virginia participated in the campaign which challenged students to develop a creative project for their school that educated students about seat belt safety and the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Winners were selected based on the creativity of their project and its effectiveness in reaching the students at their school.  Other components included the variety and number of educational and awareness activities held during the campaign and the percentage of students who signed the pledge to always buckle up and drive sober.    
    Jefferson Forest won the large school division for its school-wide safety assemblies featuring students giving testimonials about friends who were killed or seriously injured in motor vehicle crashes.  Several of the students talked about the impact of friends recently killed in crashes in Lynchburg and Amherst County.  The assembly also featured videos, including footage of the injuries one student’s friend received in a serious crash. “We wanted the student body to hear from their own peers in order to show them that it can happen to anyone…that they are not invincible and that there are tons of people affected by these tragedies,” the school explained in its campaign summary.    
    In addition to presenting the program to the students, the JF students also made their presentation to parents and the public during a February event.
    Corporal Hilbish said having the students get up and talk about their personal experiences made an impact on the student body. “They know how to reach their own school's students better than any adult can,” he said. “It received an overwhelming response. … It was a great presentation. It meant a lot.”
    Hilbish said both the response and the awards mean a lot to the students involved in YOVASO. “It shows them they’re making a difference and that they’re making an impact,” he said. “They want to make sure that they try to prevent a tragedy at their own school. They don’t want to see one of their own classmates lose their life – doing something they know they shouldn’t be doing behind the wheel of the car.”
    The JF club has about 45 active members. The group started out small and has continued to grow.
    Hilbish said it’s important for teen drivers to be warned that they must be focused on that task only when driving. “Secondary stuff should wait until you stop and you get to the places you are going,” he said, adding that too many times drivers think they can handle using technology in addition to driving.
    Deputy Daniel Clark, SRO at Liberty High School, started his new duties as the SRO in January 2012 and with the help of Krissy Alphinn led his YOVASO students to a second place win in the same campaign. The students placed signs at various locations around Bedford and on the campus displaying the letters “SSL” which stands for “Seatbelts Save Lives.”  These signs were intended to draw the attention and curiosity of the public and student body and as questions began to arise the media was used to announce the meaning of the signs.  Seatbelt surveys were conducted before and after the placement of the signs.
    Staunton River High School YOVASO Club members, Travis Crouch, BJ Martin, Dontel Moon, Tyler Monk and Adam DaPonte participated in the YOVASO sponsored Dodge Ball Tournament held on March 24 at William Byrd Middle School. Eight high school teams and two middle school teams entered the tournament.            After the grueling three hour competition, Team Staunton River came away with the first place award.
    Bedford County Sheriff Mike Brown was pleased with the efforts. “If campaigns and contests can help to save the life of at least one young person, then it is all well worth the effort,” he said.
    YOVASO is a statewide youth leadership program aimed at preventing teen-age related traffic crashes and fatalities.  The program is administered by the Virginia State Police Association (VSPA) and is funded through a federal grant from the Virginia Highway Safety Office.