Leading From The Top

In my last column, I described how the Shreya Foundation’s (shreyadixit.org) teen-led Distraction-free Life Club (DfLC) at Eden Prairie High School has been spreading the message of distraction-free driving through peer-to-peer influence. The same column also mentioned how the DfLC teens reached beyond high school, embarking on a project named Drivers-in-Making for elementary school kids, engaging them in discussions about distracted driving.

It will be the DfLC team coaching young kids.

After reading the column a friend questioned me about the utility of such a program. Her argument was that it was too early to talk distracted driving with kids who are years away from becoming drivers. My reasoning is that it is never too early to talk about this critical topic. The goal is to build a solid foundation for raising a future distraction-free driver.

Our foundation strongly believes in power of youth to bring about transformational change in society through proper channelization of energy and research-based guidance. The landmark success of hands-free law in Minnesota has only fueled the foundation’s commitment and prompted us to expand the DfLC program by including elementary school children in the max.

Thus, going one step further from teaching youth to drive distraction free, our newest initiative will provide a platform for youth to disseminate their knowledge to the younger peers, who may be decades away from sitting behind the wheels themselves but are just as impactful in becoming agents of change. Our pilot program in August revealed that children as young as elementary schoolers have a clear understanding of “good” and “bad” driving. Not only that, they are quick to notice when their parents or other adults around them engage in “bad” driving behaviors. Preliminary findings support the importance of lateral and downward peer-to-peer education about distracted driving. In addition, research has shown the psychological benefits of best practices adopted by educators. Work done in the Pennsylvania by the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania (www.mentoringpittsburgh.org) has shown the benefits of top-down mentoring. The teen mentors improve their reasoning and communication skills. They also relate to their parents better with improved conflict resolution ability. On the receiving end, the young mentees also improve their social skills with greater feeling of connection to school and peers. Mentees also show decreased behavioral problems. There is still a scarcity of literature aimed at young kids. Our peer-education program is one of the first of its kind to address this gap.

The Center for Research and Outreach lab at the University of Minnesota has consented to work in collaboration with our foundation’s peer-education program. It will assess how the engagement between teens and young kids may influence attitudes and behaviors. Dear parents, please consider sending your young elementary age kid to the program. You will be happy that you did.

The first session will take place on Nov. 16, 2019 at the Oak Point Elementary in Eden Prairie. Check for details at edenpr.org/epcommunityed. The program is open to all kids ages 7- 15 years.

Non-Eden Prairie residents are most welcome to register.

Please send your comments and suggestions to vijay@shreyadixit.org. I will wait to hear from you.

Please write to Vijay Dixit of the Shreya R. Dixit Memorial Foundation at vijay@shreyadixit.org. His phone number is 612-759-3384.