Court to School program teaches students about dangers of alcohol

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With prom season just this past weekend and graduation just around the corner, Belen High School brought something a little out of the ordinary to campus April 15 to help dissuade students from making risky decisions, such as underage drinking and driving under the influence.

BHS students filed into the auditorium to watch two DWI sentencings play out on the auditorium stage as part of the Court to School program, both ending in the defendants being handcuffed, shackled and taken away to jail by police officers.

Five years ago, Belen Magistrate Danny Hawkes initiated the Court to School program, bringing court, literally, to the high school for students to see first hand the implications of certain life choices.

"I hear a lot of you talking about the real world," BHS teacher Ken Zamora told the assembled students before court began. "You may not want to be a part of this real world. When you're 18 you won't be able to hide behind being a kid anymore."

The students watched as the first defendant, David Benavidez, a former BHS student, was sentenced to 360 days in county jail, of which he would spend four, along with a year of supervised probation, drug court and a fine of $740.

Next, they witnessed defendant Carlos Trujillo, who pleaded guilty to his third DWI, tell the judge, "I'm an alcoholic."

With this time of the year, Hawkes said he wanted students to witness what happens when you make bad decisions so that they might "make a good decision not to get behind the wheel after drinking."

He said the Supreme Court sanctioned the BHS auditorium as a courtroom for the day for the Court to School program and that it was being filmed so other courts could implement the program.

After court, Ginny Adame, local DWI coordinator, gave the students a presentation of the effects of under-age drinking and other risk behaviors, such as texting and driving.

She said one text message while driving is equivalent to having two drinks and driving. She explained about alcohol poisoning and said that when an individual drinks until they vomit, it is considered alcohol poisoning and vomiting is the body's way to try and keep the person alive.

She said it's important for students to understand that just because they've seen someone fall asleep with alcohol poisoning and wake up the next day "a 100 times," it doesn't mean they will wake up the 101th time.

"Don't be that person who was the last person to see your friend alive," Adame told the audience, adding that there is a good samaritan law that keeps you from "getting in trouble" for whatever is going on around you if you call 911 to keep someone alive.

The top three causes for death for people under age 23 are automobile accidents related to alcohol, suicides related to alcohol and homicides related to alcohol. She also warned students about the dangers of mixing prescription pills with alcohol.

"We've lost students to mixing alcohol with drugs," she said.

As a mother, Adame says keeping kids from using alcohol or driving drunk is very important to her. She tells her teenage daughter, "don't make me tell your little sister that you died in a drunk driving accident."

Adame also had students wear fatal vision goggles to show them what it is like to try and walk or function with impaired vision similar to vision impaired by alcohol.

"It was way harder than I thought it would be," said student Erica Sluder after wearing the goggles. "I never, ever want to go through that (DWI court), it looks awful."

Before dismissing the students to lunch, and out into the world of prom and graduation and then the rest of their lives, Zamora left them with a story.

He told them of a few years ago when they lost four students to alcohol-related accidents during the prom/graduation season. He said he was only able to make it to one of the funerals, and that it was the most "God awful" thing he's ever experienced.

Zamora said he didn't make it to the other funerals because, "I could not see another mother bury her baby."


-- Email the author at udavila@news-bulletin.com.