Spring Break begins for public schools -- with a plea for staying safe

Published: Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 6:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 6:27 p.m.

Spring Break for Alachua County Public Schools is next week. Students will get an extra day tacked onto the end, as April 12 is a teacher workday.

When the last bell rings today, it will signal the start of Spring Break 2010 for Alachua County public schools.

Before thousands of the county's teens head off to Crescent Beach -- and a week of gorgeous beach weather is forecast -- school officials are trying to get in a few extra reminders about safety.

"It's so easy for teenagers to let their guard down -- to forget about all the things we want them to do every day to stay safe and especially over break," said Martha Conrad, the longtime school nurse at Newberry High School.

Alachua County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Kelvin Jenkins has coordinated a group of 17 deputies who will head to Crescent Beach to beef up patrols by the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office during the annual influx, when much of Gainesville moves east for a week, descending on Crescent and surrounding beaches.

While Alachua County deputies will be patrolling the beach and condo complexes in uniform, St. Johns County deputies will have some undercover deputies working around the clock, all looking for the same things.

"We are primarily over there looking for drinking because that is what leads to fights and other behaviors that can get people hurt," Jenkins said.

He estimated that as many as half of the students from Gainesville and Buchholz high schools will head to Crescent, and so deputies stopped by those schools recently to let students know that they will be under the their scrutiny.

During a recent town hall sponsored by Partners In Prevention of Substance Abuse, Deputy Teameika Baker, a resource officer at Buchholz, told the audience: "We find that our presence at the beach helps keep the drinking down."

The general policy for deputies is to confiscate any alcohol they find in the hands of minors, Jenkins said, and students who are found drunk will be taken into custody by deputies until their parents or guardians can pick them up.

Baker said she gives Buchholz students her cell phone number should they need to call.

"I hear from a lot of parents that they let their kids go to the beach because they know we will be there," Baker said.

While Crescent is a longtime favorite for Gainesville-area students, Gainesville High junior Jermicia Towns said it's still a toss-up for her friends whether they will head to Crescent Beach or go farther south to Daytona Beach.

"It will probably be about two carloads of us, we usually get together and hang out for Spring Break, and we've gone to the beach before," she said.

Jermicia was among those who attended the recent PIPSA town hall meeting. She said presentations made during the session, especially that of UF alum Nicole Martingano, who in 2006 was hit by a drunken driver, confirmed that drunken driving is risky.

"I want to influence my friends to not drink while we are having fun," she said. "And if things get out of hand, then I will drive."

No matter what beach students decide to go to for this year's break, they can expect much better weather than they had a year ago.

Spring break 2009 was a cold, rainy, windy event. This year the National Weather Service is predicting dry, sunny weather with daytime highs in the upper 70s to mid-80s and overnight lows in the 50s.

"What we know is this -- the more beautiful it is outside during Spring Break, the more work we do," Jenkins said.

At Newberry High, Conrad and others have been harping on safety for Spring Break.

Two years ago, in two separate vehicle accidents, Newberry High lost four students. Conrad said that while those crashes were unrelated to Spring Break, the break is the first of three big teen events each spring -- break, prom and graduation -- and a good time to reinforce safety lessons.

Today at Newberry, Conrad arranged for Burkhardt Sales and Service, an Anheuser-Busch wholesaler, to sponsor a real-life example of how a safety shortcut can drastically alter a life.

The beer distributor is hosting Dr. Adam Blomberg for two sessions at the high school. He survived a horrific car crash as a high school senior, leaving him so significantly injured that his mother was asked whether he was an organ donor.

Blomberg will explain to students that he had not buckled his seat belt before the car he was riding in started moving. The car was hit broadside, and Blomberg was ejected, leaving him with a traumatic brain injury. As a result of his experience, Blomberg founded DRIVE -- Driving Responsibly in Vehicles Education -- to educate teens about safe driving.

Blomberg is not alone in delivering the message about the importance of taking the steps needed to stay safe.

Others, like Maureen Miller, coordinator of Alcohol and Drug Prevention of GatorWell Health Promotions Services at the University of Florida, are working to convince teens that underage drinking is never a rite of passage.

"We want to send the message that you can still enjoy Spring Break but there are a number of ways you can keep safe," Miller said. "We hope they look at Spring Break as a time to do something different, like tour St. Augustine or wherever they will be, but not have the primary focus be on alcohol."

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