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Staff Editorials

Stop texting and driving to save some lives

A Progress employee came into the office last week and recounted a bad wreck she’d seen the day before. A young woman failed to shift her vehicle when the lanes shifted on Highway 575, and she ran into a concrete barricade.

The first thing we suspected was that the girl was texting -- why else would someone drive straight into a wall? Even if there was another explanation the fact we immediately assumed she had been is an indication of how rampant texting and driving has become - even though it’s illegal in Georgia, and even though it’s killing a record number of people on our roads. With the busy summer driving season unfolding, and lots of teens behind the wheel, let’s please please please stop texting while we’re driving and save some lives.  

According to the GDOT, fatalities on Georgia's roads are up a staggering 33 percent over the past two years, which is more than four people who die every day. In 2016, there were 1,559 fatalities, that’s 127 more than in 2015. The state agency launched the DriveAlert ArriveAlive safety campaign to address this startling increase in deaths. Distracted driving is  now killing more people than drinking and driving. In fact, texting while driving is six times more likely to cause an accident than drinking while driving. 

Here are a few other striking stats: 

•The National Safety Council reports that cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year.

•1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving. 

•Answering a text takes away your attention for about five seconds. Traveling at 55 mph, that's enough time to travel the length of an entire football field.

The numbers are frightening, but we’re not surprised. It seems like you can’t go a day without another motorist drifting into your lane only to abruptly correct themselves last minute. 

And we’ve all probably been the motorist doing the texting and almost had an accident ourselves, then vowed never to text and drive again (then a few days later that phone dings while you are on the road and all is forgotten). 

Texting and driving has been illegal in Georgia since 2010 and there is technology in place that allows for “hands-free” or restricted use, but with the number of distracted driving fatalities related to cell phone use so high and no improvement in sight, the law and the technology are obviously not changing people’s behavior. 

A recent survey showed that while 98% of drivers think texting while driving is dangerous, 66% admit to doing it themselves. Why can’t we stop if we know it kills? 

One problem is that texting has addictive qualities, which makes it compulsory and hard to stop. A New York Times article cites a study of 400 eighth and 11th graders that “found that many teenage texters had a lot in common with compulsive gamblers, including losing sleep because of texting, problems cutting back on texting and lying to cover up the amount of time they spent texting.”

We know from police and sheriff’s officers that the texting law is difficult to enforce. So in addition to possible fines if caught, the problem is also going to take a major shift in our public thinking and some self-control on our part. 

Remember when it was okay to smoke in a doctor’s office or throw your kid in the car with no seatbelt? Most people wouldn’t dream of doing those things these days. Over time, we’ve realized that things we once considered perfectly fine aren’t, and texting and driving should be one of them. It’s not okay and you know it deep down -- so don’t do it.

The next time your phone is in the passenger’s seat and puts off that little “ding,” muster up some will power and leave it there until you pull over.

Earlier school bells deserve big fat F

Last week,  new school superintendent Carlton Wilson asked for public input into possible new start times for the county’s schools. The proposed plan could roll the school bell back to 7:30 a.m. for middle and high school students, a full hour earlier than the CDC and many pediatricians and sleep experts recommend.

According to sleep scientist Wendy Troxel’s recent TED talk, sleep deprivation among American teenagers is an epidemic. She, the American Academy of Pediatricians, the CDC, sleep experts, and countless others recommend not starting school before 8:30 a.m.

Only about one in 10 teens gets the eight to 10 hours of sleep per night recommended by sleep scientists and pediatricians. And for those who say we’re doing good because our kid gets eight hours, Troxel reminds us that that’s the minimum. “Eight hours is kind of like getting a C on your report card.”

Troxel says public policy and early start times is a major factor preventing teens from getting the sleep they need. 

And, according to these researchers, there is a reason teens like to stay up late and it’s not Snapchat.

“As children approach and go through puberty, their brains begin producing the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin on a delayed schedule, making it difficult for them to feel tired before 11 p.m. This means that waking a teenager up at 6 a.m. is the biological equivalent of waking an adult up at 4 a.m.,” she said.

It turns out, those teen brains really are different than adults.

When adults have to get up at 4 a.m., it leaves us looking like cast members from The Walking Dead for the entire day. This is what our teens would experience every school day if school times are dramatically changed to 7:30 a.m. from the current 8:10 a.m. 

Many students face long bus rides, meaning they must arise considerably earlier than the start times; moving it up another 40 minutes will see more kids arrive looking exhausted before the learning ever begins.

Chronic sleep loss among teenagers has been associated with poor school performance and a higher risk for depressive symptoms, obesity, cardiovascular problems, risk-taking behaviors and athletic injuries. According to a recent Time magazine article, research suggests that delaying the start of the school day can reduce automobile accidents caused by sleepy teen drivers. In one 2008 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, crash rates fell by 16.5% in the two years after a school district shifted its start times an hours later, compared to the two years before. 

Teens attending schools with later start times are more likely to show up for school; school absences dropped by 25 percent in one surveyed district. And they’re less likely to drop out. Not surprisingly, they do better academically.

Standardized test scores in math and reading go up by 2-3 percentage points, according to the Time article. 

The reasons for possible earlier starts cited by the local school administration  - students leaving class early for extra-curricular activities or needing to get to work - stack up poorly when looking at the prevailing trends in education and the research involving student health and grades.

“Getting enough sleep is important for students’ health, safety, and academic performance,” says Anne Wheaton, Ph.D., lead author and epidemiologist in CDC’s Division of Population Health. “Early school start times, however, are preventing many adolescents from getting the sleep they need.”

If middle- and high-school students are allowed to wake up later in the morning, they’ll be more focused during the day, more alert behind the wheel and less likely to miss school.

To comment on the school’s survey, see pickenscountyschools.org.

 

Inherit the Wind offers a lot to ponder

By Dan Pool

Editor

Over the weekend, I was lucky enough to catch the Tater Patch Players’ production of Inherit the Wind. There are a lot of things right about this play for Jasper audiences. It’s thought–provoking material pertaining to the rural South presented very well by a local cast.

The problem is that the theater was only partially-full; a solid crowd, but this much work deserved more filled seats. It’s a shame that with the limited opportunities for the arts here, it was not a sell-out every night of the run. It does continue this weekend, so you still have a chance to catch it.

For those who are averse to arts/culture, have no worries, the Tater Patch production of Inherit the Wind is something to ponder but not snobbish; casual attire is fine to wear and they sell beer at the theater – in other words you’ll have a good time.

There is never a shortage of people talking about supporting community businesses or proclaiming how they shop local. We will add to that list: Be entertained locally and some of those people need to put their time and money behind their Facebook posts and go see a local show. 

If anyone believes that the arts will march on without their support, recall the Sharptop Arts Center closed after many years due to lack of public interest.

Having a theater troupe in town makes the whole community look better and gives opportunities for both adults and kids to have something to do.

In this case, it should be easy to support the hometown thespians as their Inherit the Wind is a production that would draw applause anywhere. It is a top-notch play put on by local talent.

If you have ever thought about going to see the Tater Patch Players and haven’t, this is a perfect one to start with due to the subject which is tailored for a thinking, small town crowd.  

For those not familiar with Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee, it is loosely based on the, Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, TN in 1925, concerning the teaching of evolution in public schools. Or as the play refers it in some scenes, “Evil-ution.”

Tater Patch Director Nan Nawrocki said she did not pick it to be controversial and it is really not. The play is clearly sympathetic to the teacher who decided to open the book on evolution to his students, but not so one-sided that anti-evolutionists would run screaming from the theater.

Rather than being controversial, the play delves into familiar territory for anyone living in any small southern town. It provides a lot to think about on community dynamics, as well the weightier issues of religion, evolution and freedom of speech.

Among some of the great one-liners in the play:

• If the Lord wishes a sponge to think, it thinks.

• Show me a shouter and I’ll show you an also-ran. A might-have been. An almost was.

• What if a lesser human being has the audacity to think that God might whisper to him?... Must men go to prison because they are at odds with the self-appointed prophet?

• Sometimes it seems to me I ride like fury, just to end up back where I started. Might as well be on a merry-go-round, or a rocking horse.

• The ideas have to come out – like children. Some of ‘em healthy as a bean plant, some sickly. I think the sickly ideas die mostly don’t you?

• Then, why did God plague us with the power to think?

This is the last weekend to see Inherit the Wind at the local theater. If you want an evening out that leaves you something to think about and also an opportunity to support a great local institution, go see it. Remaining performances are May 19th and 20th at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 21st at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at taterpatchplayers.org.

Graduates: There’s a lot of wisdom in comedy

Ah, graduation. It’s the time of year in every student’s life (and their parent’s lives) to become reflective, to celebrate, and maybe even panic a little.

Saturday will mark the  annual graduation ceremony at Pickens High School where a couple of hundred seniors will flip their tassels to mark they are no longer high school students but rather young adults ready to take on the world. Whether they are heading off to college or straight into the big, bad workforce, this time of year there is no shortage of advice.

Celebrity commencement speeches at colleges and universities across the nation are ripe with the standard “follow your dreams” and “don’t be afraid to fail.” All good pieces of advice, of course, but sometimes the most sage advice comes from those who look at the world a bit differently than the rest of us - comedians.

There’s a lot of wisdom in comedy and sometimes the best comedians are serious and sometimes just seriously funny. 

 

“Try putting your iPhones down every once in a while and look at people’s face.” Amy Poehler, Harvard University, 2011

“You guys are millennials, which is the biggest generation in U.S. history. I thought it was hard for me to find a job. It’s going to be like The Hunger Games out there for you.” Ed Helms, University of Virginia, 2015

 

“Work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen.” Conan O’Brien

 

“Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else’s path unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path then by all means you should follow that.” Ellen DeGeneres, Tulane University, 2009

 

“It was so important for me to lose everything because I found what the most important thing is. The most important thing is to be true to yourself.” Ellen DeGeneres, Tulane University, 2009

 

“So how do you know what is the right path to choose to get the result that you desire? The honest answer is this: You won’t.” Jon Stewart, College of William and Mary, 2004

 

“On behalf of frogs, fish, pigs, bears and all of the other species who are lower than you on the food chain, thank you for dedicating your lives to saving our world and our home.” Kermit the Frog, Southampton College, 1996

 

“You are the nerds who are going to make some serious bank, which is why I am here today... to marry the best-looking amongst you.” Mindy Kaling, Harvard Law School, 2014

 

Today you begin the next phase of your life. Whether it’s college, a job, or a program abroad where you build a schoolhouse for underprivileged children while hooking up with each other.” Eugene Mirman, 2009 high school commencement speech

“You can’t do it alone. As you navigate through the rest of your life be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you. Spend a lot of time with them and it will change your life. No one is here today because they did it on their own. You’re all here because someone helped you. Someone gave you strength, helped you, held you. God, Allah, Buddha, Gaga. Whomever you pray to.” Amy Poehler, Harvard, 2011 

 

“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the water slide overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.” Tina Fey

“As you go out in the world you’ll find that people are always quick to define you, to pigeonhole you, to whittle you down to their pre-conceived notions. Never let others define you, define yourselves.” Ed Helms, University of Virginia, 2015 

 

An edit medley

Survey offers chance for new ideas

 

The people of Pickens County have an opportunity at the moment that they actually have almost any time – to voice opinions on the future of the county.

“Public comment” appears on most meeting agendas, but rarely is it taken advantage of. 

We’d commend Commission Chair Rob Jones for running a particularly open government with meetings that encourage interaction with anyone who shows up.

Being heard and getting your way, however, are two different things. 

In between offering a thought and seeing something happen lies a step called consensus – what do the majority of your neighbors feel about your idea?

Right now in Pickens County all individuals have the chance to state what each of us wants to see happen. And, equally important, to see what our neighbors are thinking. Are you/we/us in the majority in your desires or are you a voice of one crying in the wilderness?

A survey appears on page 16A of this week’s paper.  Follow this link to take the survey online. Please take time to fill the short survey out. Let’s see what the consensus is around here regarding our future.

One person speaking out could be ignored, a consensus must be reckoned with.

 

Needed upgrades at the Jasper park

 

The city has closed Jasper Park for renovations including some new playground equipment, fresh paint for wooden decks and walkways, and other improvements, which we’re excited about. 

At the last council meeting, Mayor John Weaver said the city might connect the two parking areas to create a loop.  This is a great idea. Parking has been a nightmare there since they put in the waterfall and separated the lots. On the far end by the little playground, the parking spots are angled in the opposite direction of cars pulling in, so you cross your fingers and hope there’s enough room to turn around at the end of the lot and get your car into a spot. We like the waterfall, but would like to see a road connecting the lots, possibly behind the water feature.

We’re also glad some of the ducks are being relocated because they’ve gotten a little too big for their britches. If you’ve tried to enjoy a picnic lunch at the park recently, you probably got bombarded for your bread crusts or leftover fries. (The geese aren’t any better. One of our reporters was bitten by an unprovoked Canada goose, but the city can’t do anything about those because they’re protected.) The closing last week was unfortunate with the weather just warming up, but we’re glad to see the city making improvements to a widely-used and important part of our community.

 

Spring fever at the schools

 

And speaking of warmer weather...

Spring fever is at its height right now in our local schools. With the warmer weather comes the inevitable change in our moods - both physically and behaviorally - that gets students and teachers itching to finish classes and get out of the classroom. 

While Milestone testing is out of the way for younger students, high schoolers are gearing up for finals and end-of-course testing. With these still to come we encourage everyone to harness the energy that comes with warm springtime weather and focus for these last few weeks of school. Easy to say and hard to do, but you’ve come so far this semester to let a little restlessness derail your efforts. 

Even calm and even-keeled students and teachers can be affected by the spring fever bug, but during this home stretch leading to May 26th, keep in mind that a little more work now will make your summer all the more sweet.