First published in the April 2 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
Nearly eight months after a fatal crash that killed three young people, the Burbank Police Department took a step forward in ensuring the safety of the community in launching a driver education course for high school students.
The Mindfulness for Young Drivers curriculum, which began Wednesday and runs through the remainder of April, is available to 9th-graders at Burroughs and Burbank high schools and consists of two sessions.
An officer will visit the campuses’ health classes to discuss topics such as driving permits, rules of the road, distractions while driving, what to do when involved in a collision and speeding.
“The goal of this program is to educate the younger members of our community about the responsibilities that come with the privilege of driving and the importance of safe driving behaviors,” the Burbank Police Department said in a statement.
Burbank Unified School District Superintendent Matt Hill credited staff members, Board of Education President Charlene Tabet and the BPD for working together to make the streets of Burbank, especially near schools, safer for pedestrians and drivers.
“This is just one strategy they’re exploring,” Hill said. “They want to do multiple things. They’re looking at what we can do with street conditions and what we can do with education. This is not just a one-and-done thing. They want to keep building on it.”
Tabet certainly hopes the Mindfulness of Young Drivers course is only the beginning. The incident last summer that involved street racing triggered memories of another collision that happened nearly a decade ago.
“I was on the board when that accident happened with the five kids about eight years ago, and those kids were my kids’ age at the time,” she said. “My oldest daughter played basketball with the sister of one of [individuals involved] and one of the girls that survived was on my daughter’s softball team. There was a personal touch, and it was heartbreaking.”
There was another personal touch with the collision that occurred at Glenoaks Boulevard and Andover Drive the evening of Aug. 3. The crash, which authorities have said was caused by two other vehicles that were racing each other, killed three young people — Burbank resident Jaiden Johnson, Burroughs High School alumnus Cerain Baker and Calabasas resident Natalee Moghaddam. Tabet was familiar with one of those three individuals.
“I’ve been involved with the Burbank Vikings tackle football and cheer program for the last 20 years, and Cerain [Baker] was one of the players who came up through the program,” she said. “It just felt like another family member had been killed because we Vikings like to think we’re one big family. And these kids weren’t doing anything wrong. They weren’t drunk, they weren’t on drugs — they were sitting [in their vehicle] at a red light.”
Tabet wants more to be done about reckless driving and said it’s going to take the entire community to address the issue.
“It’s not just one group’s responsibility to get together and get through this,” Tabet said. “It’s not enough for the school district to put [a course] in 9th-grade health classes. It’s going to take all of us, and it’s not enough to just say that the police need to be tougher and come down on drivers. It’s not any one group’s responsibility entirely. It’s the whole community because we’re all affected.”
The Armenian National Committee of America Burbank is also working on a program to educate students about driving responsibly, Tabet said, and Together We Can, a local organization working to spread awareness of reckless driving and street racing, is developing a public service announcement that will be posted online and working to have the founder of the nonprofit Street Racing Kills speak at Burbank and Burroughs high schools.