Julie Feldman is passionate about many things: her family, her friends, her scrapbooking.
Last fall, she became passionate about something else: doing all she could to shield her classmates from the real-life horrors of drinking and driving.
For her senior project, Feldman coordinated a two-day program, part of a national effort called Every 15 Minutes, held this spring at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda. The school's principal, Christopher Garran, said the event prompted even the most cynical students to reflect on the consequences of drunken driving.
It was a timely message. Last fall more than a dozen teenagers were killed in car accidents in the region, though some were not alcohol-related. Garran said the program provides an important message about being careful and safe.
The program's name is derived from national data showing that a person is killed in an alcohol-related automobile accident every 15 minutes.
The program shows a mock car accident to students. Throughout the school day, they also see selected classmates "die" every 15 minutes. Those students are pulled out of classes, and their obituaries are read aloud. They return to class, faces painted white, and are not permitted to speak for the rest of the day.
Walter Johnson and Rockville high schools took part in the program this year.
Feldman, 17, of Rockville heard of Every 15 Minutes from her older sister Lindsay, who took part in the program five years ago at Walter Johnson. She said she remembered how moved her sister was by the experience and how difficult it was for her to watch a friend being pulled from the wreckage of the mock accident.
Years later, Feldman found herself again thinking about that dining table chat. It was her sophomore year, and many of her classmates had begun driving. To her surprise, some of them talked about how they'd driven while drunk after leaving parties.
"It shocked me that after all we had grown up with -- people telling us not to drink and drive -- people were still doing it,'' she said. "They feel invincible. They don't think it can happen to them.''
Feldman wasn't sure what kind of reaction to the program she'd get from her classmates. At first students giggled when the Grim Reaper strolled into classrooms and began taking students away.
But by the end of the day, the program's impact was clear. The next day, the issue was reinforced at an assembly in which speakers discussed the consequences of drinking and driving. Victor Kennedy, a Montgomery County police detective, talked about the pain of losing his older brother in an accident that involved a drunk driver.
"I hope I have made an impression,'' Feldman said.
"I knew it would be shocking and scary, but I hope it means people will think twice about drinking and driving.''