Friend's death prompts Shaler Area student to promote safe driving

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Much like the advice given by Paul McCartney in the lyrics of his song, "Hey Jude," Shaler Area High School junior Madeline Seel created something positive from tragedy and made it better.

Madeline, 16, of Shaler, has earned a place as one of 10 members of the national student leadership council of Students Against Destructive Decisions and has been honored as Pennsylvania SADD Student of the Year.

Her SADD song was written when her brother Max's best friend, Adam Schuster, a 2010 Shaler Area graduate and someone she had known all her life, died at age 21 in a motorcycle accident in March 2012.

Already a member of the youth advocacy league at Shaler Area, Madeline turned to the group's mentor, Gregg Dietz, for advice.

"He challenged me to make something positive from all the bad stuff," Madeline said of Mr. Dietz, who also had worked with her brother and Adam Schuster. "To spread a message that could help people."

During her junior year, Madeline began a campaign to educate her peers about the dangers of risky and impaired driving. Her program, Youth Involved Education of Legal Drivers, or YIELD, earned her the Pennsylvania SADD Student of the Year honors.

In her role on the student leadership council, she will be among those who will advise the SADD national board of directors on policies and programs.

Madeline will work with the state SADD office on campaigns, projects and training programs, speak at conferences and meetings, and promote the organization's mission to provide peer-to-peer youth education about ways to prevent destructive behaviors and attitudes that can lead to underage drinking, substance abuse, teen violence, teen suicide, and risky and impaired driving.

She has worked with public officials and law enforcement personnel to create programs such as Buckle Up Beat Down, a competition among students at Shaler Area, North Allegheny and Moon Area to determine which school has the most students who wear seat belts.

Madeline led a YIELD group to count the number of student drivers wearing seat belts as they left the high school, and that led to the creation of an awareness campaign.

That project, Madeline said, helped her plan a conference at her school.

The following year, Madeline was part of a group that organized another safe driving conference attended by more than 200 students from seven schools.

When asked if she ever imagined she'd become a nation student leader at age 16, Madeline said, "No, definitely not. I never imagined I'd get this far."

She credited the SADD group's mentor, Mr. Dietz, for his passion about encouraging students to do things.

Madeline said she is ready to start working even harder for the SADD cause, helping to create policies and events that will encourage teens to drive safely. And as she enters her last year of high school, her involvement with SADD has brought about a change of plans for her future.

She said she planned to study medicine but now she is considering a career in public health.

In the meantime, Madeline will continue to promote safe driving programs.

"I'm really excited to push new things to promote safe driving," she said. "The consequences of unsafe driving can be devastating."

education - neigh_north

Rita Michel, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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