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There are many lessons taught every day at Washington County High School, but the one given to students on Tuesday before Thanksgiving break might have been the most important lesson they will ever learn.
In cooperation with the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety and the Washington County Heartland Youth Coalition, the school’s FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America) organization sponsored an event called a “Ghost Out,” which was intended to make students understand the dangers of alcohol and drugs.
Shane Ratliff, manager of the Young Drivers Program with the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety, said someone dies in a drug- or alcohol-related accident every 30 minutes. To drive home the message, he said the ghost out removes a student from the student body every 30 minutes during the day to make students see the loss of a classmate.
During the day, a costumed “grim reaper” went to a classroom and selected a student to be the victim. The student was then taken away from friends and teachers for the remainder of the day. The students taken were not able to interact with anyone else for the rest of the day. They had lunch in a designated area with other “victims,” and they spent time writing their own obituary for an afternoon ceremony.
Starting at 2 p.m., a funeral assembly was held, and the students who were victims were placed on the ground and covered with a sheet. A candle they held to represent their life was blown out, showing the loss of their life.
“It’s a very emotional event,” Ratliff added. “You see a lot of students who are emotional or upset during these events, but they need to realize they are not invincible, and this can happen to them, too.”
Washington County sheriff’s deputy Jackie Robinson, who has taught local students through the DARE alcohol and drug resistance program, said he wants to see the message delivered to students. Robinson said he has worked drug- and alcohol-related accidents where young people were involved, and he has even lost a niece in an accident, so he knows the seriousness and dangers of drinking and driving.
“It’s a good lesson for the students, and I hope it makes them realize that it really can happen, and this could really be them,” Robinson said.
At the end of the assembly, one student who was taken by the grim reaper makes a decision to not go with someone who has been drinking, and that student calls a parent to get them home safely. Ratliff said this is to teach students to seek help, and not drink and drive, or even ride with someone who has been drinking.