A chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions has formed at Gahanna Lincoln High School, with its inaugural event -- a distracted-driving summit -- slated Thursday, April 2.

A chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions has formed at Gahanna Lincoln High School, with its inaugural event -- a distracted-driving summit -- slated Thursday, April 2.

"The origins of GLHS starting this chapter comes from the loss of Sydnee Williams last fall, who was a junior at GLHS when she was killed in a car crash due to texting and driving," said Meredith Heilmann, SADD adviser and English teacher.

Each grade level will attend an assembly that features skits, videos and speakers addressing driving issues, such as being a good passenger, texting while driving, drowsy driving and driving while intoxicated.

"We are hoping to have organizations like Click It or Ticket It, Donate Life, AT&T and more, plus simulators that students can try to really see how dangerous texting while driving can be," Heilmann said. "We are hoping to make a big impact with this event, not just for the day or for a week or two, but a lasting impact that will change the driving habits of our student drivers and will start good habits with our students who will begin driving in the next few years."

Heilmann knew Williams personally through church connections, and many of her students knew her, including seniors Kari Brown and Becca Whatley.

Last spring, Heilmann worked with former principal Dwight Carter, Williams' parents, Sarah and Brock Dietrich, and Impact Teen Drivers to plan assemblies for Gahanna students to help end distracted driving.

Because Brown and Whatley knew Williams so well and were so affected by the nature of her death, they applied to attend the National Organization for Youth Safety's distracted-driving summit in Washington, D.C., in October 2014. They were selected as one of 15 teams to attend, and Heilmann accompanied them as their adviser.

"Part of their acceptance to this event was to take what they learned in D.C. and plan their own local summit through their school or community," she said. "In addition, Kari and Becca were the only team at the summit in D.C. that were not affiliated with an organization like SADD. This is how they got interested in starting a SADD chapter at GLHS."

When they returned from Washington, the students started working on what was necessary to start a new club at Gahanna and to start a new chapter of SADD through the national organization.

"In the midst of this, GLHS suffered another tragedy, the loss of Andrew Chang," Heilmann said. "After suffering a similar loss with Kelsey Thompson last year, we knew it was crucial to begin this SADD chapter at GLHS, not only to target distracted driving, but all the destructive decisions that teenagers can make that might jeopardize their future."

SADD encompasses distracted driving, suicide prevention, bullying, drug and alcohol use and date violence.

"While the distracted-driving summit is our first initiative, we will be hosting events throughout the school year that target all of these things," Heilmann said.

Brown said Williams' death was one of the most difficult situations she has experienced.

"I didn't want anyone else to feel the pain of losing a best friend in high school, but then tragedy hit Gahanna again, and once more this year," she said. "Texting and driving and suicide are two issues that could be prevented, so I made it my goal to make a positive impact out of these negative situations."

Brown learned about SADD at the Washington summit and said she she knew this was a club her school had to have.

"I feel a club like this can not only promote healthy safe decisions, but it can be a place students can go when they need someone to talk to or help with a difficult situation," she said. "I feel this club can do so much good for a community torn by pain. I think anyone who has a passion about changing their community and leaving a positive impact should join this club."

Lincoln hosted its first SADD chapter meeting Thursday, March 12, with 15 students.

Heilmann said many more students are interested in the group but were not able to attend. She said several elements would be involved in the summit.

"We are connecting this day with Prom Promise this year for the juniors and seniors, but all students will be participating in the day's events," Heilmann said. "We will have vendors set up in the lobby during lunch periods so that students can get information from various organizations about driving safety. Sydnee's family will have their own booth as well, as her story is what started all of this.

"We are planning a Spirit Week leading up to this day to begin raising awareness for these issues, including PSAs, posters and dress-up day, and everything will be culminated with our unique pledge for this year's Prom Promise."

That oath states, "I pledge to not look at my phone when I'm behind the wheel; I pledge to be a good passenger when riding with others; I pledge not to drink and drive; I pledge to wear my seat belt at all times; I pledge to speak up if I see others making these destructive decisions."