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Local leadership students win national award

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Lillian Mitchell, the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) club sponsor at Babb Middle School, said she was pleased when she found out the club won FCCLA's national Families Acting for Community Traffic Safety award this year.

Three members of the club did a PowerPoint presentation on teen driving at a Parent-Teacher Association meeting last fall. The presentation did not start out as something the club was going to enter into a contest, Mitchell said. That happened only after the club decided to give the traffic-safety category a try, for the first time, this year.

Club members recently found out FCCLA judges had deemed that presentation to be worthy of a $1,000 award. The group will receive the award at the FCCLA national convention, July 12-16, in Nashville, Tenn.

"We put a lot of effort into our previous projects, and this was one that was very simple to do, but we decided to enter it anyway," Mitchell said. "Honestly, we really forgot about it after we entered it, and then we got a letter one day saying we had won an award. It was quite a pleasant surprise."

The project was put together by eighth-graders Ericka Smith and Y'tishai Gipson and seventh-grader Nga Huynh. Sixth-grader Jerquisha Gilbert is working on a three-dimensional presentation that the group will put on display at the national convention.

Huynh was unavailable for comment during a recent interview with the group at Babb Middle School.

During the presentation, which lasted approximately 10 minutes, the youths outlined statistics and safe-driving tips they gleaned from national and state highway safety web sites.

Gipson, 15, who is preparing to get her learner's permit, said she, Smith and Huynh decided to do the project as a way to raise awareness of the dangers facing their classmates as they moved toward an age where they, themselves, would become teen drivers.

"It was a big problem in society, so we wanted to bring it to society, to let them know what's going on," Gipson said. "I learned most teens drive without using their seat belts. I will be getting my learner's permit by the end of the year, and I have decided I won't be driving without a valid, licensed driver in the car with me. I will also be wearing my seat belt."

As Gilbert begins brainstorming ideas for the three-dimensional presentation that will be put on display at the national convention, she said she has certain criteria that she wants to make sure she meets.

"I want to put important facts on their about how important it is to be a safe driver," Gilbert said. "I want them [viewers of the display] to be ready to learn something valuable when they come up to this display. After they leave, they will have learned something that could save their life."

Smith said some of the important things teens need to remember when driving are to check their mirrors before making lane changes, pay attention to the road and other drivers, and avoid distractions like cell phones.

Smith said she was as surprised as Mitchell when she found out her group would receive a national award, but winning titles was not the reason behind the teen driving project. "I was shocked because I didn't know you could win an award based off a presentation like this," Smith said. "We didn't care about the award, actually. We just wanted to save lives by practicing safety."