Upward Students Ask Parents to “X the Text”

A person texting while driving, with a pedestrian in the background.

“Do you text and drive?” “Do you ever pick up your child from the car rider line at school?”

These are just a couple of the questions Upward Elementary parents recently answered in a survey administered by the school’s Student Lighthouse Team in their research on the dangers of texting and driving.

Consisting of 5th-graders Emily, Malia, Blake, and Jordan, and 4th-grader Nikki, the student leadership team spent the 2017-18 school year choosing and executing a service learning project that would best benefit their school community.

“The difference between ‘service’ and ‘service learning’ is with service, you’re just helping the community,” Jordan explained. “With service learning, you’re helping the community while learning about it (and its needs).”

Jordan and his teammates had been one of six school groups in North Carolina selected to attend the NCDPI Student Leadership Institute 2017 last summer at Pfeiffer University. Designed to equip rising 4th- through 12th-graders with the skills to actively lead in their schools and community, the Institute prepared the Student Lighthouse Team and their mentors – 5th grade teacher Diane Norgan and school counselor Gloria Anderson – to lead a service learning project of their choice at their school.

Blake said the team initially narrowed down their potential project topics to “obesity” and “texting and driving.”

“We were thinking about problems that were nationwide,” Jordan said. “We were thinking of how we could save people easily,” added Blake.

The group ultimately chose to survey their peers, parents, and teachers about texting and driving once they saw the state and national data; they found that 267,494 crashes in the U.S. are due to texting and driving each year, 20.3 percent of 2016 crashes in North Carolina involved a driver using a phone – despite the state’s existing texting ban – and about 500,000 people are killed or injured each year because of texting and driving.

And the dangerous habit is something the students see firsthand, everyday.

“We see a lot of people doing it,” Malia said.

Once the topic was chosen, the students conducted their own research; they sent surveys to parents, 1st- through 5th-graders, and teachers, and wrote specific questions for each respondent group. While parents were asked if they texted and drove, students were asked if they ever brought up their concerns about texting and driving with their parents.

When asked whether parents/guardians text and drive, 42 percent of students said “Sometimes,” compared to 16.9 percent of parents indicating they “Sometimes” text and drive and 33 percent stating they “Rarely” do.

Another question asked students, “Do your parents/guardian ask you about your day when you get home from school?”

Jordan said, “If parents are texting and driving, they are having less social interactions with their child.”

Sign that says “X el texto” or “X the text” in Spanish.Based on their survey results, the students each designed a sign – placed all along the entryway to Upward through the car rider line – asking parents in English and Spanish to “Make your car a no phone zone,” “X the text,” and “Hang up before you pick up.”

Anderson said she thinks the signs are already catching parents’ eyes; she heard from staff who assist in the car rider line that fewer parents were on their phones Tuesday. And on her own way into school, Anderson said, “I passed nine cars and none of them were on their phones.”

Anderson and Norgan said next year, Nikki will look at the correlation between parent-student conversation and texting and driving, and the new group of Student Lighthouse Team members will work on conversation prompts for parents to engage with their students on the ride home. And Blake, Jordan, Malia, and Emily hope to carry the project over to Flat Rock Middle next year.

In the meantime, Norgan told the students, “If you can stop one person from texting and driving, you have made a difference.”

Blake said, “We could have saved a life.”

(Written by Molly McGowan Gorsuch, HCPS Public Information Officer.)