BRATTLEBORO>> Local schools may see safer drivers leaving their campuses thanks to financial support for a local program that aims to educate teens.
Enhanced Teen Driver Safety Program is receiving a $7,500 check from State Farm Insurance on Sept. 6 at Leland & Gray Union High School, which will support its efforts through 2017 to educate high school students about safe driving. This initiative provides the opportunity for a highway safety deputy to be speak at driver education programs taught within Windham County High Schools. Mike Roj is the ETDP coordinator and a deputy at the Windham County Sheriff's Office, who teaches proactive highway safety techniques through strategies, historical data, hands on demonstrations, explanation of Vermont motor vehicle laws, videos and tips designed to increase the student's knowledge of highway safety in a classroom setting.
"State Farm has been a driving force for the topic of highway safety, and teenage safety as well; they understand the concept and are fully supportive of it and they've never said no to supporting our efforts, and that's a testament to their commitment to highway and teenage safety in Vermont,"said Roj.
The program started in 2014 with a goal to "enhance" the existing program by introducing a law enforcement prospective. It is currently being offered at Brattleboro Union High School, L&G and Twin Valley High School, customized to fit the needs of each school.
Roj is welcomed into driver's education classrooms where he teaches six or seven structured classes throughout the semester at each of the three schools. He is also currently in negotiation with two private schools within Windham County that are interested in implementing the program. He is also looking to expand the program outside of the county.
Roj says these classrooms are often comprised of young, inexperienced teens who might not fully understand the responsibilities and consequences of making poor decisions and the importance of highway safety.
Another one of the most unique aspects of the program is the parent/guardian component. The driver's ed instructor and ETDSP coordinator meet with the student's parents and provide them with similar messages the student is receiving while enrolled in driver education classes.
"Their ability to influence their child can be conflicting with what we're teaching and we want consistency across the board,"Roj said.
Roj added that parents influence the driving behavior of teens. Tohelp them provide the "best example" and understanding, Roj hosts a conference for parents of the students where they are taught the same concepts that their teens are learning in class.
However, Roj feels that this program not only offers an introduction to safe driving tips, tools and facts, but also a positive perception of law enforcement officers.
"There is a bi-product to the program, that we're just starting to recognize. Most teenagers, 16 to 17 years old have limited personal experience with police officers because most schools that has school resource officers in place, many budgets are being cut and officers are being pulled," said Roj. "Teenagers do not have a lot of positive law enforcement experiences in a relaxed setting and this offers that."
At the end of the semester, Roj asks the students to fill out an evaluation about their impression of the program he offered. He notes that the responses have been remarkable.
"Not only do they provide us with positive feedback with what they learned about highway safety, but we received a lot of feedback about how the interaction has changed their view of law enforcement, that we're not all bad guys and many law enforcement officers want to help and encourage people to do the right thing," Roj said.
Roj works to create a bond of trust and understanding with the students by offering communication tools that work for them — social media. He tells the students to refer to him as "Uncle Mike," because he wants the teens to know he's "got their back."
"They can contact me with anything related to law enforcement; they're very comfortable with that dynamic of communication and can message me on Facebook," he said.
According to Roj, he receives anywhere from three to seven personal Facebook messages from a teen or parent in the class, questions related to highway safety.
Roj said the money for the program covers research and development, providing updated statistical data, creating new lesson plans, travel time, time in the classroom and communicating outside of classroom with teens and parents. Roj estimates that he spends about 150 hours total for developing the eight lesson plans and the program positively affects the lives of about 400 individuals, including the students and guardians.
Program questions can be directed to Deputy Mike Roj at the Windham County Sheriff Office or email to email@example.com
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275