Pre-prom activities emphasize making good choices
By THOMAS P. CALDWELL
LACONIA DAILY SUN
BELMONT — “We care about you” was the overall message of the day as Belmont High School played host to a series of presentations emphasizing the need to make good choices.
Coming just a day before prom night, safe driving was a major emphasis yesterday, with Virginia Fuller of Exeter relating the story of daughter Chelsea’s death in September 2010, which she said might have been prevented if Chelsea had been wearing a seat belt.
Many school districts in recent years have taken measures to make sure students remain safe before and after proms, ranging from simulated crash scenes to after-prom parties where the focus is on movies or games as an alternative to parties where drinking or drugs might be present. Parents of Inter-Lakes students, for example, hold an after-prom party at the Meredith Community Center.
In Gilford, the high school uses its live broadcasts to issue messages about making positive choices while enjoying prom, graduation, and other year-end activities.
“We also send a personal message to the students through email,” said Principal Anthony Sperazzo. “A joint message from Gilford Together (a community group seeking to prevent substance misuse) and the Police Department also went home to all parents.”
This year, Belmont High School teamed up with the injury prevention team at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock and developed a full-day series of presentations that included Fuller’s talk, as well as a discussion of safe driving by 24-year-old Nascar driver Melissa Fifield of Wakefield. There also were hands-on activities, such as virtual goggles and simulated driving, a mobile command unit, and golf cart driving.
During lunch, students had an opportunity to visit the After the Crash Career Fair with tables providing information on employment challenges and counseling, as well as a chance to speak with paramedics, police, sporting groups, and more.
Fuller, in a live talk and a video safety message, spoke of how Chelsea’s death had changed her family’s life and told the Belmont students, “Had she been buckled in, this wouldn’t have happened. Parents worry about these things for a good reason.”
She cited statistics showing that 74 percent of the fatalities from automobile crashes were not wearing their seat belts.
In Chelsea’s case, the 17-year-old was going out with two friends when the car she was driving hit a sign near the Amesbury exit on Interstate 496 in Massachusetts and flipped over, becoming airborne and sending Chelsea over the steering wheel. Another passenger, Chantay O’Brien, 20, of Fremont, sustained injuries that included impaired sight.
“I was working and got the phone call,” Virginia Fuller said. She was so shaken, she asked for a police escort to the hospital, but was unable to get one. It was a long drive, and devastating.
“Life is so different for me and the family,” she said. They had to refocus on those who remained.
“I can only hope you make good choices when you get (behind the wheel) and buckle up,” she said.
Later in the afternoon, students heard from Fifield, who has been a Nascar driver for four years and has been named Most Popular Driver three times. Having been racing for half of her 24 years, her message was “dreams can become reality” with the additional caveat that, to do so, one has to make good choices.
“The race track is safer than being on the road,” she said during an interview prior to the start of activities. “The safety equipment in a race car differs from a regular car’s safety features. When I get behind the wheel of a regular car, I make sure to buckle up.”
Fifield had early lessons in the dangers of driving from her father, Wakefield Police Chief Ken Fifield.
“I’ve been a cop for 28 years,” the chief said. “Melissa grew up in a cop’s family.” As a result, he said, she would hear stories of the terrible fatalities and injuries he had to deal with. “Some of that stuff you bring home,” he said.
“Melissa wanted to pursue safety in her way. She didn’t want to be a cop, and I didn’t want her to be one,” he said.
Melissa said she has wanted to race since she was 5, and started with go-cart races. Her racing career began when she was 12, and she went on to a national tour in the Allison Legacy Series before going on Modified regional tours and getting on the Nascar circuit.
While racing, she has been an advocate of making good choices and avoiding distractions and impairment. She recently signed a contract with the state to act as a spokesperson for the Click It Or Ticket campaign.
Chief Fifield said he is pleased with the Belmont program using the term “crash” rather than “accident” because “Most crashes are preventable. They’re not accidents; they’re crashes you cause.”
“Life’s too important to throw it away on a stupid decision,” he said.
Participating in the pre-prom career fair yesterday were LRGHealthcare; the state Department of Corrections; Riverbend Choices; Young Living Essential Oils and Whole Health of Concord; Grace Wellness Center; Align Physical Therapy; Pike Industries (safety equipment); Highland Mountain Bike Park; Apache Camping (rock climbing); and the Belknap County Sheriff’s Department.