Inspiring work by students at Carson High

Every once in awhile, I get a chance to go to Carson High School and see what the students are doing. I have yet to be disappointed.

Sometimes it's senior projects. Other times it's the culinary students or journalism class. This week, it was the group that put together a driver awareness campaign.

If you read the Appeal, you're probably already read about what these students have been up to the last few months.

They put together a community awareness fair, along with a battle of the bands, which drew hundreds of people in October. They went door to door to ask people if they could stick "Slow Down" signs in their yards.

They produced public service announcements on traffic problems like bicycle safety, speeding and the drivers who accelerate through yellow lights. All of them rival any of the public service announcements you see on TV.

Three of them were serious. One drew laughs, even though its topic was probably the most common and dangerous problem in Carson City.

It showed a student trying to make his way across Carson Street near the Legislative Building. As he started to cross, one, two, three, four vehicles failed to yield for him in the crosswalk.

That's how people get killed.

Then he dressed up four beefy Carson High football players in wigs and dresses. They made for quite a sight. For some reason, they got the attention of drivers, who stopped to let them cross.

The final clip, though, of a student helping a not-so-little old lady - again, one of the football players - showed drivers zipping through the crosswalk without regard to the pedestrians. One, two, three, four.

All we could do was shake our heads as we watched, because we've all been there taking our lives in our hands just trying to get across the street.

The students also created a couple of documentaries that held the small audience in Carson High's library on Wednesday in rapt attention.

One film made by student Tyler Bourns told of a day in the life of Kevin Petersen, a Carson High student paralyzed below the waist as a result of a black-ice accident.

Kevin showed what it takes to get out of bed in the morning, get in and out of the tub, get to his classes. It was simple and direct, especially when Kevin sits at his kitchen table and tells the camera, "I miss just being able to be a teenager."

The second documentary was a short interview with Vicki Hathaway and her daughter, Debbie, about the accident that claimed the life of son and brother Justin Hathaway in May 2004. Like the first one, it wasn't preachy or melodramatic. It just made a powerful point.

The students also unveiled Wednesday their Wall of Remembrance, a grid of tiles with handprints and messages from the families of accident victims. "There's no greater loss than the loss of a child," wrote John and Patti Snyder, whose 16-year-old daughter, Nicole, was killed on Highway 395 last year.

The wall will be on display in Senator Square. "We want it to be seen by as many students as possible," said Lydia Peri, one of its creators.

These projects, part of an overall campaign called "Building Awareness - Taking Action," fall under the label of "service learning," Students practice their skills, in this case a video production class, by doing something constructive for the community. Grant money pays the costs, and much of the work goes on outside of school time.

There's more going on here than ambitious students.

When teacher Brian Reedy shows the results of these projects to his counterparts from other schools around the country, he sometimes gets the reaction: "Wow. That's great. That could never happen here, though. We could never get all those people to participate. How do you do it?"

Reedy's two-word answer: "Just ask."

In Carson City, that's all it takes. I see it day after day, not just with the schools but with every kind of organization and group imaginable. And I see a limitless capacity for one individual to do whatever it takes to help another.

What am I saying here - that we have some kind of perfect community, a Utopia of the Sierra? Of course not. There are plenty of flaws, plenty of problems to overcome, plenty of people who will disagree on what's best for Carson City. It'll never be perfect, either, just as we'll never be certain that every car is going to stop when we step into a crosswalk.

What matters is that there are so many people who care enough to keep working on it.

n Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at editor@nevada or 881-1221.


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