Awareness for teen driving safety took center stage Thursday at Palisades Charter High School, as more than 3,000 stunned students learned the school earned a . The "Celebrate My Drive" campaign, organized by the non-profit Streetwise Media's "In One Instant" program last month through online voting, awarded grants to only 14 schools across the U.S. and Canada.
Tom Conley, senior vice president of State Farm Insurance of California, presented a $100,000 check to Principal Pam Magee at an assembly in Stadium by the Sea, following the school's annual earthquake preparedness drill. Conley noted, to the surprise of many, that Pali High got the most votes of any other school in the country and Canada and earned twice as many votes to the second-highest vote getter.
"This grant will allow us to do many things we had to postpone," Magee told the crowd, saying the students will have a say on how Pali High spends a portion of the funds.
"It gives students a voice on how funds will be used," Magee said following the assembly. "It’s a great example of when a student has an idea and pursues it, and everybody gets behind it, is a real inspiration for other opportunities to come along."
For many Pali High students, State Farm's commendation and school grant is an extremely personal accomplishment, according to Gail Schenbaum Lawton of Streetwise Media. Back in the 2008-09 year, a string of distracted-driving car crashes occurred in Pacific Palisades, causing many heart-breaking teen deaths.
In response, three mothers - Lawton, Cheryl Wada and Debbie Barnett - founded Streetwise Media, a non-profit affiliated with Community Partners. They created "In One Instant," the groundbreaking safe-driving program for teens, developing it with input from students, teachers, first responders, psychologists, legal experts and the Ojai Foundation.
"In One Instant" takes teens and parents through a dramatic reenactment of a reckless driving collision due to drinking and texting. Weaving in a short film, the program conveys how "in one instant" an entire community can be devastated, and teens deeply feel the consequences of bad choices and start making better ones by taking ownership and engaging their peers in becoming part of the solution, as an outcome.
Subsequently, Pali students formed the "In One Instant" school club to further that message. Then last month, feeling the pain of school budget slashes and losing valuable programming dollars, Pali's "In One Instant" club students entered State Farm's "Celebrate My Drive" contest to get the most votes for the $100,000 prize.
Lawton said Pali High will be donating a portion of the grant toward "In One Instant" to ensure it continues at Pali High. Streetwise Media won three awards for its film, and is rolling out the whole program to Los Angeles County schools next year.
Palisades community leaders and representatives from California Highway Patrol, the Los Angeles Fire Department and the Los Angeles Police Department attended Thursday's assembly, having been significantly involved with Streetwise Media in developing the teen driver safety program. Other "In One Instant" sponsors attending were the Pacific Palisades Womens Club, Mercedes Benz Driving Academy and Kehillat Israel.
The event also featured performances by Pali's Marching Dynamics band, cheerleaders and dance team.