Chartiers Valley thanks first responders, remembers victims of DUI crashes
Seniors at Chartiers Valley High School carefully decorated a tree in front of their school with two large red bulbs, 15 gold ornaments, 154 red ribbons and 1,054 lights.
Each represented a life lost or the crash of a vehicle due to impaired driving in Allegheny County during the holiday season and throughout 2018.
“It really does hit home. As simple as us putting something on a tree, someone’s life could be taken away,” said senior Cora Schaab, 17.
The DUI Dedication Tree has been a project of Safe Driving Communities for Allegheny County for about six years. Chartiers Valley has had a tree for about five of those — taking a hiatus for construction.
“It’s just to bring awareness not only to the students, but to the visitors of the school, of the reality of a year’s worth of bad decisions,” said Collier police Officer Bill Oslick, a school resource officer at Chartiers Valley middle and high schools. “I hope that it makes them think twice. Maybe not so much now, but later on in life, to remind them that they don’t want to be one of those bulbs.”
DUI Dedication Trees are now displayed in six schools. Safe Driving Communities is comprised of representatives from PennDOT District 11, AAA East Central, the Traffic Injury Prevention Project, Allegheny County Health Department’s traffic safety division and Allegheny County’s Pretrial Services Alcohol Highway Safety Program.
The goal is that the tree is a focal point for students when they walk into the building, said Pam Wahal, of the county’s pretrial services Alcohol Highway Safety Program.
“It’s really important that we get this message across to our young people, because they’re the ones who are going to start the trends for driving, as new drivers,” said Yasmeen Manyisha, safety spokesperson for PennDOT. “This tree is really important because it symbolizes lives. These people are more than just numbers. Hopefully one day this tree is bare.”
Students said the message hit home for them.
“It shows not everyone is invincible. It can happen to you,” said senior Sean Banas, 17. “It really just plants the seed that if you’ve been drinking, don’t drive. It’s the smartest thing.”
While students gathered Monday to decorate the DUI Dedication Tree, another group of Chartiers Valley High School students stood just feet away honoring police and firefighters and thanking them for their service.
Students in the applied engineering and technology department’s materials and construction class created flags for each of the police and fire departments in the district.
Technology education teachers Andrew Poppelreiter and Chris Sherman were looking for a new project that would teach students basic skills and how to use the machines.
After all of the 150 students were finished making their own American flags, they agreed it would be a nice idea to make flags for the local police and firefighters to say thank you for all of their hard work.
“I think it shows them that we care and that we really do appreciate what they do for us,” said senior Connor Cox, 17.
Junior Romello Sanford, 16, agreed.
“They’re protecting us and it means a lot,” he said.
Junior Ryan Kantner, 16, said the gift is a way to give back to those that are helping others.
“They work hard and they deserve our respect,” added junior Matt Sedlak, 16.
All four police departments — Scott, Heidelberg, Bridgeville and Collier — were given thin blue line flags, while the fire companies were given American flags.
“It’s an honor to see the respect from the kids and how much they appreciate law enforcement, public safety and the fire departments,” said Officer Matt Haley, patrolman with Bridgeville police. “It means a lot.”
That sentiment was echoed by Scott Township Officer Ed Povirk, who serves as a school resource officer at Chartiers Valley Intermediate School.
“It’s a great gesture on behalf of the students and the school district,” he said. “Certainly, it will be displayed proudly in our police station.”
The officers also were happy to see the students recognizing the impact impaired driving can have through the DUI Dedication Tree.
“It’s great to see it starting at this age. These are the new drivers. They’re getting off on the right food,” Haley said.