A cautionary tale

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 3, 2002

The program began innocently enough. Students listened to music while filing into the auditorium, and then two students walked out on stage and introduced themselves. They started talking about growing up and making choices while pictures of themselves as children and other youth appeared on a screen. There were lights, music, and dancing. It was exciting. Students laughed at the jokes.

Then the movie started; gradually the audience of high school students grew silent. Some found tears in their eyes. Few were unaffected.

The program was an alcohol awareness event about choices, created by students at Albert Lea High School. Its purpose was to make the consequences of irresponsible alcohol use more relevant &045; giving students a realistic portrayal of a tragedy caused by drinking and driving.

Email newsletter signup

According to Andy Drenth, one of the two emcees for the event, the program addresses a real problem in the community &045; irresponsible drinking of alcohol.

&uot;We’re being naive if we don’t accept that alcohol is being used by teenagers,&uot; said Al Root, Albert Lea High School principal.

Drenth started helping out with the project in January, and now that it’s over, he admits he also learned something.

&uot;It makes me think twice about every decision, about all of the consequences of one bad mistake,&uot; said Drenth.

&uot;I’ve got a daughter who’s a senior and this really hits home,&uot; Root said.

Students who attended seemed to see the relevance without needing much explanation.

&uot;The whole thing was eye-catching and it had a meaning that made sense to me,&uot; said April Hanson, a junior at ALHS.

&uot;I could hear the people around me &045; it was like they were starting to think it was real,&uot; said Kourtney Kopet, another student.

&uot;I think it really affected people,&uot; Kopet said.

The film was the main event, and it was a completely local effort. ALHS students Kelly Anderson, Laura Linnes, John Mattson and Gerritt Plantage wrote, produced and directed it with help from school liaison officer Ted Herman and social worker Kim Danner.

With the cooperation of local emergency services, including police, sheriff, fire department and hospital, they told the story of a high school prom experience gone horribly wrong. In the story, students were drinking, then piled into a car and smashed into another car filled with other students going to prom. The film showed every step from that point, from Albert Lea firefighters pulling injured kids out of wrecked cars, to workers from Bonnerup Funeral Service taking away the bodies of the dead, to Naeve hospital staff telling parents that their daughter was dead.

The driver responsible was shown being arrested, charged, put in a cell and then watching his friends be buried &045; from a distance, isolated, alone and filled with shame and remorse.

The characters were all portrayed by students at the school, and they used their real names, because they thought it would be more effective.

&uot;Using our real names brings it home that this could really happen,&uot; said Laura Linnes, who portrayed one of the injured survivors in the film. &uot;It’s more relevant because they know us,&uot; she added.

The aim was to be as realistic as possible, said members of the group, as close as possible to the way things would be in case of a real accident. And they think they succeeded.

The effort took several months to complete, but was made easier by the eager cooperation of everyone they asked to help out.

&uot;It only took one call and they said ‘yes’,&uot; said Herman.

The film itself was kept secret from most students, and only a few knew more than that they were going to an alcohol awareness event. The timing of the presentation was due to this weekend’s prom for Albert Lea High School.

Now that the project is over and done with, the group is turning to discussions of whether they should offer the film to other schools in the state. They’ll be talking to those who helped make it about that possibility, said Herman.

For now, those involved hope the message gets taken seriously here in Albert Lea.

&uot;I hope it helps students really think about their choices,&uot; said Danner.