HANNIBAL — The First Impact Parent Education Program has made a difference over the past four years for parents, teen drivers and educators, and the recent transition to a virtual format has resulted in getting the message out to more people than ever after the coronavirus pandemic halted in-person sessions.

Deana Dothage, with the University of Missouri School of Medicine Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, is the director of the program and has embraced the transition to a virtual model. Now, weather-related cancelations, restrictions due to the pandemic and physical separation can no longer stop in-person courses. Dothage moderates each online session, and guest speakers join her and the group parents and their teens as they learn about how to be positive role models, instill smart driving choices and understand the Graduated Driver’s License Law.

First Impact is a program of ThinkFirst Missouri, and Dothage commended sponsors State Farm, Rusk Rehabilitation and the Missouri Department of Transportation for their support. When comparing pre-program and post-program surveys, Dothage has seen parents reporting their plans to spend more time riding with their teens and instilling good driving habits.

“When parents and teens hear our program in-person, the dialog between the speakers and the audience is really a major component of the program because they hear the stories from the speakers, they can ask questions, they can talk about their fears and how they feel,” Dothage said. “And it really makes it a powerful program, where they walk away and you can tell they have listened and they have embraced our methods.”

Dothage and fellow officials work to maintain a level of constant communication and interaction online with a chat room format where teens and parents are encouraged to ask questions. Dothage monitors questions parents and teens ask, and one of the questions they ask parents is “what are your greatest fears about your teen driving?” Dothage shares the responses with members of the group, and they can read questions typed in the chat boxes during the session.

As more schools shifted to online learning, Dothage said everyone responsible for First Impact displayed their ability to “adapt and overcome” with a new format which will continue when it is safe to resume in-person sessions. Now, in a situation that would have canceled the program in the past, Dothage can simply send the Zoom link to all the registrants.

Marisa Ellison, communications member with MoDOT and representative for the Northeast District of the Coalition for Roadway Safety, agreed the online format is ideal for reaching more people in the audience they are trying to reach because so many parents and teens are online already. More and more schools have been transitioning to online, and Ellison said representatives previously discussed an online format. The increased audiences mean safe practices can be taught to more teens, their loved ones and friends.

Ellison said each opportunity to provide education for teens “will hopefully make them safer drivers.” From 2017-2019, there has been a reduction in the amount of teen fatalities, and Dothage said she feels there is a connection between that trend and increased education efforts.

“All of the different educational programs targeted to teens, and this one, targeted to parents, are making a difference — and it is impacting families to where they are making better choices when they are on the road, which is resulting in fewer teen fatalities,” Dothage said.

The next First Impact virtual session is scheduled from 6-7:30 pm. Monday, Nov. 23, on Zoom, with Dothage joining retired law enforcement officer Marsha Jones and Chief Deputy Michael Claypole, with the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office and Dillon Harp, State Farm Insurance agent in Trenton, Mo.

The following sessions are set from 11-11:30 a.m. and 6-7:30 p.m. Wednesday Dec. 2, on Zoom, with Dothage leading along with Sgt. William Lowe, with the Missouri State Highway Patrol during the first session and joining James Baker, with the Wright City School District; Dean Meyer, retired law enforcement officer; and Nancy Baca State Farm Insurance agent in Centralia, Mo.

Registration opportunities and more information are available by calling Dothage at 573-884-3463, emailing firstimpact@health.missouri.edu or visiting firstimpact.missouri.edu.

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