If Connie Williams’ students had conducted themselves in real life like they did in class Friday, the 13- and 14-year-olds would likely end up in juvenile detention.
But students in Liberty Bell Middle School’s STEM class — an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics — were under strict supervision and their appearance of alcohol intoxication was just that — an appearance.
STEM is a project-based class whose participants must test to be accepted, Williams said. ”We do projects based on upper math ... through 11th and 12th grade. We’re preparing them for the workplace and college,” she said.
Williams said the students have constructed a crane and surgical instruments so far in the class. This project, however, focused on the math involved — geometry and trigonometry — in accident reconstruction.
“This was the culminating activity,” to show students the results of an accident and the reaction those forces have on the human body, she said.
“They’ve been learning how to use mathematics in how (police) reconstruct accidents,” School Resource Officer Erik Hilton said. “Ms. Williams thought it’d be useful for them to see the practical application of what causes accidents.”
Hilton and Officer Todd Moody took two training tools for students to experience — a golf cart, cones for a driving course and Impaired Vision Goggles, more commonly called “drunk goggles.”
The training eyewear got that nickname because of the effect it has on a sober person. It causes them to have the some of the sensations of being intoxicated. Hilton had two pairs of the goggles. One imitated an intoxication level of .07 and .10 and the other imitated a level of .17 to .20. Tennessee state law sets the legal limit for drunken driving at .08.
The exercises Friday included students performing a “walk-and-turn” test where they walked a straight line without the goggles then did the same thing with the goggles. A driving portion of Friday’s activities had students drive a golf cart though a basic cone course without the goggles, then again with the goggles.
Parents were invited to observe the exercise.
Darril Walters said there was no way he was going to miss it when his daughter, Grace, told him about it.
“It’s humorous at this point but at the same time you’re sitting there thinking ... is this going to be enough of an impression maker for them to know just how difficult it would be to maintain a vehicle?” Walters said.
“You hope it leaves the impression that this is not a good idea.”
Grace said walking with the goggles on was deceiving.
“The line looked like it was about a foot over from where it was, then when you walked and thought you stepping in front of your heel you were actually stepping on your foot ... and your head was swimming,” she said.
When classmate Yaser Zaatini was trying to walk a straight line, he said, “Why is everything spinning?”
Afterward, he said the goggles “definitely mess up your senses.”
Williams said part of the reason she wanted to use this kind of project — the accident reconstruction and impaired goggle demonstration — was personal.
Four years ago, while her family was returning from a trip to Hilton Head, S.C., their car was hit by a drunken driver traveling 98 miles per hour. Williams’ husband died in the crash and her daughter, who had just taken off her seat belt to get her son’s sippy cup, was thrown out as the car rolled and she suffered severe injuries..
“I thought, ‘they need to know this,’ ” Williams said about her students. “They need to know that someone they know has been through this,” she said. “Before that, I didn’t know anybody who had been hit by a (drunken) driver.”
Williams hopes her students learned that the exercise “was more than about being intoxicated. (The goggles) don’t impair your reaction time as much ... your thinking and judgment aren’t impaired by using the goggles.”
Student Reagan Mullins may have summed it up best when she said, “people drive drunk all the time and they don’t always wreck, but they risk lives in general. It’ll definitely make you think twice. Personally, I don’t see (why) you would drive drunk.”