Hidden pollers make accurate seatbelt counts

Staff writer

Students hid in three locations around the Marion High School this year with one agenda: to count the number of students who were wearing seatbelts.

“It was a more accurate way to count the actual number of students who came to school with their seatbelts on,” said Lori McLinden, Seatbelts Are For Everyone director. “Students didn’t see the crew wearing the bright vests with clipboards in their hand. They couldn’t lie on a survey. It was all observation.”

The Marion SAFE program had nine student volunteers this year, who McLinden said were vital in the program’s success. While they didn’t see as much improvement as last year — a 33 percent increase — in seat belt usage, she still considers it successful with more than 80 percent of students strapping on the seat belt.

“Seat belts save lives,” McLinden said. “My daughter and I were in a rollover accident a couple years ago. We wouldn’t be here now if we weren’t wearing our seat belts. That experience makes me want to educate as many young people as possible.”

There were six surveys taken throughout the year, and the seatbelt wearers were rewarded with a treat. It began small in October with candy bars and sports drinks, but soon grew to include cash prizes. Each time a student was caught wearing a seatbelt they would receive a card, qualifying them for a grand prize at the end of the year. If they wore their seatbelts during each survey, they would have five chances to win large prizes. These included local gas cards (of varying amounts) and a video camera.

“We wanted the money to stay local,” McLinden said. “We thought it would be a good fit, and the students seemed to like them.”

Student volunteers also conducted two Facebook challenges, where they would like the SAFE program and then were asked to vote. This, McLinden said, was a huge success — and they had a lot of participation at a couple sporting events.

McLinden said the program ended strong with a final assembly held on Wednesday that featured Dalton Noakes, youth panel member of the FCCLA’s “It Can Wait” texting while driving program. The senior, from Chanute, spoke to the 180 students at the high school and showed a full-length video detailing the dangers of texting while driving.

“It was powerful,” she said. “I think teenagers understand these things better when it’s coming to them firsthand from someone their own age, who has been in an accident and knows how important this is.”

While this year is ending, McLinden is already gearing up for next year. Instead of having student volunteer sign-ups in the spring, she plans to hold them in the fall.

“It’ll let freshmen who are just coming in have a chance to sign up,” she said. “Tod Gordon and I will look over the applications and select the students that look like they would be a good fit for the program.”

Meanwhile, she is plotting other, unique ways to educate students about wearing seatbelts next year.

“I think we might do a contest where students will make and wear a seatbelt to school,” she said. “They’d just put it across their T-shirt or something. Then, we’d have awards for the most creative.”

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