Forty-three Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School students are in Philadelphia this week for the national finals of a teen driver safety contest sponsored by State Farm Insurance and the National Youth Leadership Council.
If they're successful, they'll return with the "Best of the Best" award, plus a $10,000 prize.
In truth, however, they've already been very successful.
The students' safe driving campaign, known as "GCMS License to Live," is one of 10 high school programs nationwide chosen as finalists to compete for the "Project Ignition" top prize. It is the only one from Illinois – others are from Nevada, Ohio, Kentucky, Texas, Florida, Wisconsin, Kansas and Washington – and it is believed to be the smallest high school participating.
The students wrote, produced and acted in four television commercials encouraging safe driving. They even composed and performed music. One of the videos shows a small child who is struck by a car chasing after a ball that had rolled into the street. The driver is distracted by his car radio.
But here's how successful the GCMS students' program really has been: Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White said their videos are being shown at every driver's license facility in the state.
And driver's education teacher Judy Weber-Jones said the program has proven to be a lifesaver because at least five GCMS students survived automobile crashes because they were wearing seat belts.
The program is an outgrowth of a tragedy that struck the GCMS student body more than three years ago when twin brothers Greg and Steve Arends were involved in an automobile accident outside of Gibson City. Greg Arends, who was not wearing a seat belt, died in the accident. His brother, who was wearing his seat belt, was severely injured. The aftermath of that accident has had a profound impact on high school students and their families.
We wish the GCMS students good luck in Philadelphia and continued success at spreading the word throughout Illinois about the importance of safe driving.