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November 13, 2015

Inspired by a young hero, Philadelphia students push seat belts on fellow teens

Schools Driver Safety
11132015_new_foundations_video Source/New Foundations Charter School

The students at New Foundations Charter School in the Holmesburg section of Northeast Philadelphia have embraced safe driving awareness and the use of seat belts by teen drivers. They have entered a video in a State Farm contest.

Students at a Northeast Philadelphia high school are promoting safe driving in a video they have entered in a nationwide contest sponsored by State Farm.

The video, filmed and edited by students in Project Ignition at the New Foundations Charter School in Holmesburg, features many of the school's 750 students. NFCS is the only school from Philadelphia selected as part of the top 100 finalists in the contest. (You can watch the video and vote here – through midnight Saturday, Nov. 14.)

"Seatbelt usage has just been a really big thing for us. ... We have such a personal commitment to it." – Hannah Porter, NFCS senior

The contest is part of State Farm's #Drive2N2 campaign, which encourages teens to drive with 2 eyes on the road and 2 hands on the wheel. Schools were asked to raise awareness for the campaign by making a video. The video that gets the most votes earns the winning school a $100,000 grant and a concert by the band Echosmith.

The issue of safe driving hits home with the New Foundations Charter community, said Hannah Porter, a senior.

Two years ago, one of their own, Christopher Alvelo, was killed in a tragic accident that highlighted the importance of seat belts amid a heroic, lifesaving effort by the 17-year-old.

On Oct. 26, 2013, Christopher was riding in the passenger seat as his stepfather drove home from an Eagle Scout project. In the back seat were his cousin, Dalton Madden, also a student at NFCS, and two friends.

At Red Lion and Norcom roads, Christopher's stepfather had a medical emergency and lost consciousness. In an effort to seize control of the car, Christopher took off his seat belt to grab the steering wheel and steer the SUV off the road. Unable to brake the vehicle, it rammed a passenger van in the parking lot.

Christopher was killed.

His heroic action saved the lives of the four others in the car, including Dalton, who told his brave cousin's story again to NFCS upperclassmen during an assembly Tuesday on the importance of wearing seat belts.

"Seat belt usage has just been a really big thing for us," Hannah said Friday. "Whenever you get in a car, the first thing you should do is to put on your seat belt. We have such a personal commitment to it."

NFCS was one of six schools nationwide selected by The National Youth Leadership Council to receive a two-year, Project Ignition grant to identify best practices to promote seat belt use by teens. The school has made safe driving an ongoing service learning project.

"The students' project was powerful, designed by students and truly connected to their experiences," said Shira Woolf-Cohen, K-8 principal at the school. "So often we focus on the mistakes teens make while driving, which is important. But this project is more about what can happen to anyone in an instant and the power of wearing a seat belt as a lifesaving device.

"The NFCS school community will never forget Chris' actions as a hero, and now they'll never forget the power of a seat belt because it saved their classmate's life and they heard about it firsthand," she said.

Hannah said she joined the Project Ignition team two years ago after someone close to her died in a car accident. 

"So it's a big deal," she said.