BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Every other year, the Turning Recreational Events in New Directions (TREND) Executive Board prepares for the Days of Realization, a simulation of the harmful effects that distracted driving holds. On Thursday, February 20 and Friday February 21, the club members conducted the program with the help of their advisor Bob Segear and several members of the Berkeley Heights and Mountainside police and rescue squads. Twenty-one students and two teachers took part in the simulation and their “deaths” were announced every fifteen minutes throughout the day. 

After the announcement of each “death,” the Berkeley Heights and Mountainside Rescue Squads escorted the students and teachers out on a stretcher in front of their class. Students placed their cell phones and school iPads in evidence bags and were told to refrain from talking to their peers. 

One of the students participating in the simulation, junior Emily Haines, was the first to “die” and found herself surprised at how much the program impacted her. “The issues with distracted driving are so important right now and I hope students are as impacted as I was from the messages spread.”

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At the end of the school day, the Days of Realization participants and the TREND Executive Board went to the Best Western Hotel in New Providence where they listened to a guest speaker. Lorraine Reidy, a guidance counselor at Mountain Park Elementary School in Berkeley Heights, talked to the students about how all of the little things in life matter and affect one another. She also gave everyone a piece of paper and encouraged them to write down things and people that fill their “bucket.” 

After Reidy spoke, the participants were given time to write their goodbye letters, a requirement for anyone participating in the simulation. It was an emotional time for students to reflect and think how their “death” would impact those close to them. 

The next day, juniors and seniors attended an assembly where their beloved friends and faculty were honored at a mock funeral. Seniors Bella Barbosa, Weronika Chojonowska, and Peyton Hopek, juniors Becca Candeloro and Matt Chin, and junior and senior teacher Wendy Richards all read their goodbye letters. 

TREND Executive Board member Jason Lalavee said, “The speeches were even more powerful hearing them during the assembly. It made the entire simulation feel really lifelike.”

Afterwards, speaker Pam O’Donnell, whose husband and five-year-old daughter were killed by a driver under the influence, read the victim impact speech she had to give at the trial. Her speech was powerful and heartbreaking, but extremely important in showing students how one bad choice can completely destroy someone’s life. Hearing her story firsthand allowed students to see that the impacts of such tragedies are long-lasting. 

With the assembly marking the end of the Days of Realization, Segear was extremely pleased with how the days’ events turned out. The goal of the program was to make a difference and have students think twice about distracted driving. From the messages spread, he thinks that the program really was a success. Segear said, “I’m really proud of all of the students that participated and how the days went. I really think what we are doing is making an impact.”