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High Life : A WEEKLY FORUM FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS : In Case of Emergency, Take Class : Education: The Red Cross sponsors a program to train students to respond in a disaster such as a quake.

July 08, 1993|TRISHA GINSBURG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Trisha Ginsburg, a recent graduate of Los Alamitos High School, is a regular contributor to High Life

Are Orange County high schools prepared for the Big One?

The Orange County chapter of the American Red Cross likes to think that the answer is a resounding "YiES."

The Youth in Education Services program was started two years ago with the idea that in the time of a major disaster, such as an earthquake, high schools have people on campus who can respond immediately.

"Our job is to work with the schools in opening up shelters and helping to train school staff for disasters,' said Penny Hughes, director of Youth Services at the Orange County Red Cross.

"A few years ago, we knew there were a handful of teachers who were trained, but we knew that if there was a major catastrophic disaster, you can't say if your trained staff is going to be OK. Who is your largest population of people on campus? It's the students. So we felt it was really important to train them."

During 1991, the YiES program trained students at five high schools in the county. Last year, it reach more than 20 schools. This year, a grant from the National Red Cross enabled YiES training to expand to 50 high schools, with more than 1,000 students trained in emergency disaster preparedness.

YiES students are given five three-hour classes on everything from damage assessment and crisis intervention to setting up an emergency shelter. In addition, they are trained and certified in standard first aid and CPR.

"It makes you think about what could happen and makes you more confident in dealing with it," said Erin Gaughen, 17, a graduate of Pacifica High School in Garden Grove. "I'm certified now, and I feel much more confident about helping out in a situation that could (otherwise) be way above my head."

The Orange County Red Cross now has chapters from across the country inquiring about the youth program that it pioneered.

"It's a big undertaking, requiring a strong commitment from the schools," Hughes said. "But it's successful because of the involvement of the students. The kids really want to help, and so the Red Cross' job is to train them so that they can help."

The Youth Services Department tries to keep all YiES students in practice so they don't forget their skills. The Red Cross Olympics in May had events such as "Smile! You're on Red Cross Camera!" to remind students of what to say or not say to the media at a shelter; "Are You OK?," in which students took a refresher mini-quiz on first aid before practicing CPR on dummies; "Home Sweet Home," on setting up a shelter, and the "Clara Barton Challenge" obstacle course, in which student teams had to rescue friends from a "burning" building.

"It's really important to keep the youth volunteers busy while they're waiting for a big disaster," Hughes said. "We try to have community outreach programs available."

One outreach program provides youth volunteers with comprehensive training in HIV/AIDS education so that they can go into high schools and educate their peers.

There is also the Leadership Development Center, a weeklong summer program in Big Bear that allows students from all backgrounds the opportunity to focus on skills such as values clarification, cultural sensitivity and experiential leadership.

Among the summer programs planned for youth volunteers are weekly beach cleanups, a fund-raiser Saturday in which Red Cross youth will be extras in a Disney movie, a baby-food drive in late July and an Aug. 5 visit to the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

"Any opportunity to help make a student a better human being is meeting the goals of our programs," said Peggy-Sue Ellis, YiES coordinator. "You feel a stronger bond with something you're constantly kept involved in."

Colet Abedi, 16, agrees. A junior at Foothill High School in Tustin, Abedi has logged more than 100 volunteer hours with the Red Cross this year. She is on the Youth Council, which meets monthly and plans youth activities.

"The program has really changed me," she said. "Ever since I've been involved in the Red Cross, I've seen people struggle, and I've seen the Red Cross try to help. It has changed my perspective on life."

Hughes said that "it has been successful because we get a varied group of students to take the training. The YiES program is open, and it attracts students from all different groups. It's a new avenue for leadership. Maybe you're not going to be ASB president or a football star. But here's another program . . . you could become a Red Cross star."


For more information on the Red Cross Youth Volunteer Programs, call (714) 835-5381, Ext. 492 .

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