More than 115 teens representing 37 high and middle schools from across the commonwealth including Halifax County High School students arrived at James Madison University (JMU) recently for a week of educational and hands-on activities that focus on safe driving practices and the importance of making responsible decisions while driving.

The 2019 Summer Leadership Retreat is sponsored by Youth of Virginia Speak Out About Traffic Safety (YOVASO), a program of the Virginia State Police (VSP).

The annual leadership retreat is being held on the JMU campus in Harrisonburg through Thursday. Retreat participants, including students and their YOVASO club advisors, spent the week learning about how to reduce crash risks, studying negative consequences of poor driving behaviors, and training to serve as youth traffic safety advocates.

Participants will use the information to work in peer-to-peer programs in the schools to promote safe teen driving and help prevent motor vehicle crashes among teens. A total of 165 students and adult leaders registered to attend.

Highlights and new features for the retreat include motivational speaker, Shaun Derik; a TEAM Challenge low ropes course; a session with Mallory’s Movement Against Drunk Driving on finding your passion; and workshops on public speaking and the power of advocacy. Special training sessions for club advisors and SROs will be held daily, and schools will also have time to meet and begin action planning for the upcoming school year.

During the week, students also participated in interactive safety sessions by the Virginia Trucking Association, the Virginia Department of Transportation, AAA Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education, DRIVE SMART Virginia; and, new this year, KEA Technologies, Inc.’s Driver Alcohol Detection Safety System (DADSS). Students also participated in a variety of interactive, team-building social events, to include a trivia night, talent show, movie night and the Amazing Race, “Cinema” style.

“The annual retreat provides students a unique opportunity to learn safe driving and passenger safety skills in a fun and interactive environment,” said Mary King, YOVASO”s Program Manager. “The retreat also prepares them for the important task of leading peer-to-peer traffic safety programs in their communities in order to combat crashes and fatalities among this high-risk age group. Our goal is to prepare our young leaders to help influence a safe driving culture.”

The four-day, three-night retreat concludes with an awards banquet to recognize students, schools, administrators, law enforcement and business partners for their dedicated and outstanding efforts during the 2018-2019 school year to prevent teen-related traffic crashes and fatalities on Virginia highways.

The retreat is sponsored by YOVASO, VSP and the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles in partnership with State Farm Insurance and the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

YOVASO is Virginia’s Peer-to-Peer Education and Prevention Program for Teen Driver and Passenger Safety. Membership in YOVASO is free and open to all Virginia high schools, middle schools and youth groups. YOVASO currently has 106 active member schools.