It starts like any other school visit. I pull up to the school with Scott, the Educator photographer. We are running late. We are frantically looking for visitor parking. We are trying to remember what we need to capture in words and pictures to make the story come alive during our visit to California High School in San Ramon. I check the mirror to make sure there is no food in my teeth from the cereal I’ve been eating during our commute.
And then we hear the loudspeaker. It is so loud we hear it perfectly inside our car.
“Students,” booms the voice. “We regret to tell you that four students from California High School students were killed in an automobile accident last night. Later in the day we will hold an assembly and counselors will be on hand for you to talk with.”
I start to shake. It sounds familiar; I think maybe I have heard something about this on the evening news.
“We can’t go in,” I tell Scott, who nods in agreement. “We need to cancel this visit.”
Scott decides we should first go into the office and let staff know we were canceling our visit David Futterman, an expert on Dyslexia. I park the car, still shaking, and wait for him. My chest feels constricted as I imagine the grief of the families and classmates impacted personally by this horrific event. I remember years ago, at my daughters’ high school, how devastating it was when three teenagers were killed by a drunk classmate at the wheel. The flower memorial is still maintained in Pacifica, years later. Scott motions me over. I enter into the office. The school secretary, amazingly, is smiling.
“It’s not real,” Scott says.
“It’s not real. It’s the Every 15 Minutes Program.”
I am dumbfounded. I am shocked. I am angry. And I am relieved. All within a 30-second period.
The national program is designed to dramatically instill teenagers with the potentially dangerous consequences of drinking alcohol and texting while driving. Announcements such as these are supposed to challenge students to think about drinking, texting while driving, personal safety, etc.
We take a deep breath and visit David Futterman.
Later, I try to process what took place. I decide that hearing this announcement while driving in the parking lot could easily send someone careening into a parked car. I also decide that if this program saves the life of one teenager at California High School, it’s worth the price of needlessly shocking school visitors on campus and worth a fender bender.
But maybe they could turn the loudspeaker just a little bit lower next year.