Warren County High School students were treated to a surprise break from school that came with a $25,000 check Friday afternoon.
Students gathered in the gymnasium to hear the announcement by principal Tony Cassel and State Farm agents Neil Helton and Bill Zechman that the school had won $25,000 in the Celebrate My Drive contest, a promotion which encourages teens to make positive choices as they start driving and promotes the belief safe driving is a life-long commitment.
State Farm offered a total of $3.5 million in grants and awards to participating high schools across the United States and Canada.
Voting was done during an online click-in during National Teen Drive Safety Week, which was Oct. 18-26. Anyone age 14 and over – including students, teachers, parents and members of the community – could log in every day of the week-long campaign to cast a vote for WCHS.
Top prizes in the contest included two performances by pop music superstar Kelly Clarkson that came with $100,000 grants. Additionally, there were eight more $100,000 grants, and 90 schools received $25,000.
According to Zechman, who is also a School Board member, approximately 3,700 high schools participated in the contest.
“When the leaderboard went dark the last Saturday of voting, we were No. 28. We will absolutely do it again next year. This year the world heard from Warren County. Warren County will certainly be back next year,” Zechman said.
Helton and Zechman presented WCHS computer teacher Paddi Smith with a huge bouquet of flowers for her efforts in spearheading the voting.
“The School Board is calling her General Smith because she was the field marshall over the campaign,” said Zechman. “She worked uncounted hours and she was the faculty leader and chief organizer in recruiting the students and community in making safe driving commitments. She is the student faculty sponsor for the Student Advisory Committee and she organized the students to click in the Celebrate My Drive campaign.”
Smith collaborated with the school system’s IT director to set up laptops and iPads where students and teachers could register their safe-driving commitment every day during the promotion.
According to Zechman, State Farm designed Celebrate My Drive to be a student-led effort with participation from the whole community. “That is the way it worked in Warren County. We can’t say enough about the students because they really joined in the campaign and did a stellar job,” he said.
When asked how the $25,000 will be spent, Zechman replied, “By design, 10 percent must go to driver safety education and related topics, and the other 90 percent, if I understand correctly, will go to various clubs, curricular programs and new technology. The students are expected to have a major voice in how the funds will be used.”
Zechman wanted to thank Jeff’s Towing Service for delivering a wrecked vehicle to the high school at the start of the campaign to emphasize safety behind the wheel, Walmart for allowing WCHS students to collect safe driving commitments at its entrance, Rogers Group Highway Builders for the loan of an electronic sign board, and the Southern Standard for informing the public of the event.