By Kevin O’Rourke
Less than two years ago, Seneca Valley High School was morning the loss of 15-year-old Christina Morris-Ward, after she was struck and killed as she was crossing Germantown Road at Wisteria Road while distracted by her cell phone.
Today, Christina who would have been a senior at Seneca Valley, was remembered at the school as Montgomery County Department of Transportation, in partnership with Montgomery County Public Schools, launched the #YOLOwalksafe program to raise awareness among teenagers of the risks of distracted walking and other dangerous pedestrian behaviors.
The launch was attended by Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, County Council President Craig Rice and Board of Education Vice President Patricia O’Neil, as well as Christina Morris-Ward’s mother Gwendolyn Ward.
“I said I wasn’t going to get emotional today,” Ward said at the event. “But I am not emotional with sadness, I am emotional with happiness. I am so proud and so grateful. I don’t want another child or family to have to go through what I have gone through. I am asking the class of 2015 of Seneca Valley High School and all the high schools in Montgomery County to stay safe to continue to get this message across, YOLO – You Only Live Once.”
Each year more than 400 crashes involving pedestrians occur on Montgomery County roadways. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, teens ages 15 through 19 make up half of all underage pedestrian fatalities. And in Montgomery County, when pedestrians are found at fault in collisions, they are most often teens in this age group. Many teens take undue risks when crossing the street, or they walk while distracted by texting, playing handheld games, listening to music, or talking on the phone.
The campaign includes a toolkit which will be distributed to every high school in the county. Inside the toolkit is an assortment of campaign posters, static clings to go on restroom mirrors, and a USB drive with other digital resources.
The program hopes to use social media, especially Twitter, to remind teens to be aware while crossing potentially dangerous intersections by hi-jacking the slang acronym YOLO which has often been a rallying cry for participation in unsafe or unwise behavior and reminding teens that they do in-fact only life once.
The posters which all feature a teenager with tire tracks across part of their face have taglines which the creators hope will resonate with teens, such as, "If you text, you're next," or "That song is to die for" and "A smart phone can man you do stupid things" and, "Don't be caught dead wearing black." The taglines hope to hit home with teens not to have earbuds in their ears, and not to wear dark clothing early on winter mornings, and don't text or read Twitter or Facebook as you walk to and from school.
“Following Christina’s death, I was moved by the leadership shown by Tina’s friends and by our community,” said Seneca Valley Principal Marc Cohen. “We are incredibly excited to see students and members of our community working together to address these pedestrian safety issues head on.”
Cohen said the students at Seneca Valley are helping their friends be safe, by wearing reflective gear on their backpacks, by dressing in brighter clothing in the mornings, especially as it gets darker. Students have also begun to remind peers turn off music and take earbuds out of their ears as they are crossing the street. “Our kids have shown tremendous pride in the efforts they have taken to address this issue."
Cohen said the Seneca Valley PTA and the booster organizations have worked directly with the county executive’s office and the Council President Craig Rice to make sure students remained safe. “I have been incredibly pleased to see the collaboration that has occurred among the adults in this county.”
“We have to do everything that we can to avoid the tragic loss of life,” said County Executive Isiah Leggett. “I am here to urge teens to be alert and awake when they are crossing busy streets, and to have them make sure that their friends are alert as well.”
Council President Craig Rice, who is a Germantown resident, spoke about seeing teenagers walking against the light at the same intersection where Christina Morris-Ward was tragically killed just a week before. Rice said he stopped his car and spoke to the teens about not-heading the warning of Christina’s death by continuing in the dangerous behaviors. “We have to continue to make our voices heard. It is up to each of us to make sure that what happened here, does not happen again. And that has to come from advocacy and action.”
Rice asked students to make sure they understood that YOLO, didn’t mean take risks because you only live once, but to understand that “the reality is you only have one life and you need to do everything to make sure that live up to your potential,” he said, “and that is not going to happen if you pass away in an intersection. We expect you to be our future leaders. We want you to do something with your life and that won’t happen by you putting your life at risk.”
As the event ended, Seneca Valley students signed a pledge banner and committed to remain safe when walking to school and crossing intersections.
For more information about the YOLOwalksafe program visit the website.
Top: A #YOLOwalksafe poster in the main hallway at Seneca Valley High School.
Next: Gwendolyn Ward, mother of Christina Morris-Ward a Seneca Valley High School student killed in a pedestrian accident in October 2012 at the lauch of the YOLOwalksafe campaign to raise awareness for pedestrian safety in Montgomery County.
Next: One of the posters from the YOLOwalksafe campaign.
Next: Seneca Valley Prinicipal Marc Cohen at the YOLOwalksafe campaign launch.
Next: Montgomery County officials; Montgomey County Councilmember Cherri Branson, Director of Montgomery County Department of Transportation Art Homes, Board of Education Member Dr. Judith Docca, Caption Thomas Diadone of the MCPD, County Executive Isiah Leggett, Board of Education Vice President Patricia O'Neil, Seneca Valley Principal Marc Cohen, Council President Craig Rice, and Board of Education member Rebecca Smondrowski.
Video: Seneca Valley students sign the YOLOwalksafe pledge banner.
Photos and video by Germantown Pulse.