Heartland student is contest finalist

By Joseph Slacian

A Heartland Career Center student is a finalist in a contest sponsored by the National Road Safety Foundation.
Dakotah Culver, 16, LaFontaine, is a student in the media arts program that is a collaboration between Heartland and the Honeywell Foundation.

A Southwood High School junior, Dakotah wrote the script for a public service announcement about the dangers of drowsy driving for the Drive Safe Chicago contest as part of a class project. He is one of three finalists; the winning piece will be decided by an online vote in February.

“I was very surprised,” he said of his reaction when learning he was a finalist. “We have a lot of good script writers in our class. This was the first script I ever wrote.

“I was just baffled.”

Dakotah said he wanted to have a personal touch to the public service announcement.

“I stuck with simplicity,” he said. “We just have a black background with someone sitting on a stool talking about drowsy driving. It seems very personal. It seems like it’s a one-on-one conversation.

“You have some graphics on the side emphasizing words. It’s just very simple.”

Helping Dakotah with the PSA were friends Kennedy Watson-Holmes and Trey Wright. Emmy Award-winning director Alan Weiss oversaw the project, which was produced by Marilou Yacoub.

“This is the first time that we’ve applied to this contest, Drive Safe Chicago for the National Road Safety Foundation,” class instructor Steven Weir said. “I was stoked when I found out one of my students won. Dakotah’s been really excited about it.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for him, the class and the media arts program as a whole.”

For the contest, Dakotah had to write a 30-second script for the PSA.

“A film crew from New York comes here and we shoot the PSA,” Weir continued.

The film crew was at the Honeywell Center’s Ford Theater on Tuesday morning to film Dakotah and others who will be a part of the PSA. It also filmed a segment giving a behind-the-scenes look at filming a PSA for the syndicated teen television program entitled "Teen Kids News."

In addition to Dakotah, two other Indiana students – Kaitlin Webster of Hobart and Logan Conner of Fort Wayne – are finalists.

Beginning Feb. 7, the finalists’ videos will be posted on the Chicago Auto Show’s Facebook page, where the public will be able to vote online for their favorite PSA. The winner will be announced Monday, Feb. 18, during Family Day at the Chicago Auto Show. The PSA also will air later this year of “Teen Kids News.”

The three videos can be seen at

The writer of the winning entry will receive a $2,000 prize from the National Road Safety Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes safe driving. In addition, the winning message will debut at the Chicago Auto Show before airing nationwide on more than 150 television stations.

The contest was open to teens throughout Indiana and Illinois.

The topic of the dangers of drowsy driving was selected because it kills more than 5,000 people each year, and more than 500,000 people are injured.

“We salute the three students who are finalists in the Drive Safe Chicago Contest,” Ray Carpelli Jr., the 2019 Chicago Auto Show chair, said in a news release. “Today’s new cars have technology to warn drivers if they appear to be drowsy, but the ultimate responsibility to be awake and alert is with the driver. It is an important message not only for young people but for all drivers, and we are pleased that our finalists showed such great creativity to communicate it.”

The National Road Safety Foundation is a non-profit organization that produces traffic safety programs on distracted driving, speed and aggression, impaired driving, drowsy driving, driver proficiency, pedestrian safety and other safety issues.

“Young people need more sleep than adults, yet too many of them don’t get enough sleep,” Foundation representative Michelle Anderson said in the release. “They think they can function and drive on minimal sleep, but they can’t. The Drive Safe Chicago is a way for teens to get important drowsy driving messages out to their peers and to all drivers.”

Posted on 2019 Feb 05