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Battle of the Belt

A local high school has won a competition that's aimed at saving young lives. KSMU's Michele Skalicky reports.

Ava High School students had better buckle up. Otherwise, they'll bear the embarrassment of having a whistle blown at them from someone perched atop a lifeguard stand at the exit of the high school parking lot.

It's part of an effort by faculty and students to keep kids safe.

In fact, the effort has been so successful, that Ava recently won the Missouri Department of Transportation's Battle of the Belt competition. More than 100 High schools competed against each other to increase seat belt use and potentially save lives.

Pam Holt is trauma prevention education coordinator at St. John's and was instrumental in getting the Battle of the Belt started in the state 4 years ago. She says the seat belt campaigns at each school are largely student-led

Two regional prizes were awarded this year. Ava won for the highest safety belt usage overall with 100%. Southern Reynolds County in Ellington won for the greatest percentage increase in safety belt usage.

Ava went on to win at the state level, receiving a total of $750 in prize money.

But what they also won was the satisfaction of knowing that more students would be safe.

Holt says Ava speech and drama teacher Troy Garrison started Project Lifeguard to make sure students were wearing their seat belts

According to Troy Garrison, the "lifeguard" stand is manned for nearly a month at a time either by himself, community members or students

The odds of surviving a car crash are 80% better if you're buckled up.

Garrison is pleased that so many Ava teens are heeding the warning about wearing seat belts.

He says teens, in particular, need to hear the message about buckling up

MODOT and the MO Safety Center recently conducted a survey and found that only 56% of the state's teenagers wear safety belts. From 2003-2005, more than 500 young people died in Missouri traffic crashes and 75% were not buckled up.

Ava recently lost a student who was wearing his seat belt. Another student who wasn't buckled up was seriously injured in another crash, and a girl who wasn't wearing her seat belt was killed in a crash before that.

The award shows that Ava students are paying attention and are realizing they could be another statistic if they don't buckle up.

For KSMU news, I'm Michele Skalicky.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.