INKSTER, N.D.-On Wednesday, high school students quietly filed into Midway Public School gymnasium and sat a few feet from a coffin.
During the mock funeral, a teacher strode up to the podium to tell students that senior Carly Magnus, who lay motionless in the coffin, died from distracted driving.
"We are gathered here today to remember the life of our dear friend Carly," teacher Liz Grzadzielewski said. "To think of this girl not being a part of our lives is unbelievable."
After the ceremony, students clustered in the hallway. Freshman Ogden Wasylow said he was shocked at first.
"It shook me up a little bit inside," he said. "It makes you think a little bit more about things in life."
The stark and dramatic scene appeared to students exactly the way its creators hoped. Jenna Graham and Elijah DePyper, both juniors at Midway Public School in Inkster, wanted to illustrate the impact of distracted driving on others through a Family, Career and Community Leaders of America project. Distracted driving goes beyond texting and drinking alcohol, Graham said.
The pair's outreach effort, intended to reach students across the district, also included a visit from North Dakota National Guard members and creating a coloring sheet for elementary students.
Grzadzielewski told a personal story during the funeral about the death of her son that left some adults in tears.
The idea is simple: Distracted driving can affect your family, your school and everyone around you.
"I want them to understand that it can happen to anyone," said Graham.
She chose the project based on a personal experience. She rolled her car a year ago after driving too fast to school-she was late, she said.
"It wasn't drinking or texting," she said. "Kids don't understand that it almost cost me my life."
Graham and DePyper took the mock funeral seriously. They had Magnus tell others she was "stressed out" before she left school. Magnus even drove her car behind the school and hid the rest of the day to make students believe she was gone, said Graham.
Before the event, some people involved said they were nervous about how students would process it. Ashley Sailer, a teacher and FCCLA adviser, said it was risky, but she wanted the message to hit home.
"This can really happen," she said. "It's not something to take lightly. We all drive distracted."
Graham and DePyper will use the project for the district competition next month.