A group of Hispanic workers at the AT&T Call Center in Joplin are working with Hispanic students at Carthage High School to help them make a better future for themselves.

A group of Hispanic workers at the AT&T Call Center in Joplin are working with Hispanic students at Carthage High School to help them make a better future for themselves.

On Thursday, 30 Carthage students spent the day at the call center, south of I-44 in Joplin with members of HACEMOS, AT&T’s Hispanic and Latin American employees’ association, for the 15th annual HACEMOS, National High Technology Day.

Part of that day was spent making sure these students have a future by convincing them of the dangers of sending text messages on their smart-phones while driving.

The students, who had already signed pledges not to text and drive, got the chance to use a driving simulator that graphically demonstrated how distracted driving can lead to tragedy.

“It simulated how we drive, but it is sensitive,” said Carthage student Jacqueline Pivaral. “There were bad drivers and good drivers, I was a bad driver, and I was supposed to reply to a text message that we received. As I did that, I lost focus on the track where we were driving. Answering texts can cause damage to people around us. Us not focusing on driving can impact others.”

Another student, Cristian Reyes, said he was chosen to be a good driver, but the temptation was still there.

“I drove pretty well,” Reyes said. “I could see the text messages flashing and it was kind of distracting as I wanted to look at it because I really wanted to see what was being said, but I had to resist my temptation and keep on driving.”

Reyes said there was a difference between the students who responded to text messages while driving and those who did not.

“I saw from the bad drivers that whenever they looked at their text messages, you could see the total difference in their lack of concentration,” Reyes said. “They just couldn’t drive as well as I could whenever I was not texting back. I didn’t lose anything by not texting back, I actually did better because I didn’t wreck and it was better to me.”

Carissa Goben, graduation coach for the Hispanic students at Carthage High School, said the 30 students who attended Thursday’s event represented half of the 60 Hispanic students whose grades and attendance qualified them come.

“They are juniors and seniors, Hispanic students and they had good behavior, grades and attendance,” Goben said. “I sent out the invitations and said the first 30 that got back their consent forms filled out and signed could go because I didn’t know any other way to choose out of those 60. It filled up very quickly, even with the snow days, they really wanted to come.”

Scott Elliott, president of the Joplin HACEMOS chapter, said his group has focused on working with Carthage High School because Carthage has the largest population of Hispanic students in the area.

“HACEMOS is employees who are Hispanic and are driven to help the Latino-Hispanic culture and their kids get educated, stay in school, encourage them to stay in school and point the way down technology, math and where their future is going to be,” Elliott said. “We worked with Carthage last year, it was our first year and a great event. Our goal is going to be encouraging and bringing in other schools, but we wanted to get a good foundation with Carthage to set the program in place.”

In addition to the texting and driving simulator, the students toured the call center, watched the employees there as they worked and heard from a motivational speaker.

AT&T and the Missouri State Highway Patrol have been working on a program to teach young people the dangers of texting and driving.
“Inattention is a leading cause of traffic crashes,” said Colonel Ron Replogle, chief of the Highway Patrol. “If you’re focused on sending a text message, then you aren’t paying attention to your driving. Cell phone usage -- particularly texting while driving can lead to tragic consequences. These consequences are easily preventable if drivers would simply put down their phones and focus on the road."

“The campaign complements Missouri’s current anti-texting law, which prohibits use of texting devices for drivers 21 years of age and younger.