Keeping prom night safe

Parties: After the big celebration, many Howard high schools plan elaborate events to help students steer clear of risk and still have fun.

April 15, 2005|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Forget Ocean City. And parties at seedy motels.

With prom season beginning this weekend in Howard County, many students are forgoing traditional after-prom festivities to attend parties organized and chaperoned by parents.

Seven of the county's 11 high schools are holding elaborate after-prom parties - complete with prizes such as TVs, iPods and college dorm packages - to lure students away from risky activities.

"We're hoping to keep kids safe, off the roads and away from private parties that may not be fully supervised and keep them away from alcohol and drugs," said Lisa Booze, a coordinator of Centennial High School's after-prom party next month. "We want to do something for them that we thought they would enjoy as well."

After their proms, Centennial and Mount Hebron students will party at Don Pablo's Restaurant in Columbia. Some schools are renting the AMC Theatre in Columbia - playing current movies and converting the lobby into a casino filled with blackjack and the popular Texas Hold 'Em poker tables.

Students at Oakland Mills High School will celebrate at the Columbia Association's gym in River Hill, with access to the pool and basketball courts.

Tonight - as Howard High students are dancing away at their prom - some 50 parent volunteers will decorate and prepare the AMC for the after-prom party.

After tomorrow night's prom, Mount Hebron's Parent-Teacher-Student Association will host its ninth annual party, featuring a DJ and karaoke. Each year, some 350 students attend the event.

"It's grown in popularity because the kids realize their friends are going," said Carol Grove, a parent at Mount Hebron High School and co-chairwoman of the PTSA after-prom committee. "They can win a great prize and parents know it's a safe activity for them."

Holding such an event takes dedicated volunteers, many months of planning and lots of money - between $6,000 and $12,000.

It also takes a lot of paperwork, with each party requiring permission slips as well as rules including when students may leave. For instance, students at Howard High's event are "locked in" unless a parent signs them out.

In addition to prom, Howard County police officers are stepping up enforcement efforts on the road for after-prom parties.

After three years of on-and-off discussion, Howard High's PTSA decided to push ahead with the school's first after-prom party this year, said Colleen Dodd, who helped coordinate the event. The PTSA set aside a big portion of its budget for the event, raised an additional $3,000 and solicited donations from local businesses, collecting a total of $8,000, Dodd said.

So far, the Howard High PTSA has sold more than 220 after-prom party tickets at $5 each for what could be a good turnout for the first year.

"There is still the factor of a lot of people not coming because they want to do what has always been done," Dodd said. "With the first one, you get the word out that you've had fun and next year, you're more successful."

River Hill High School is holding its first post-prom event, too. With the theme of "A Night in the City," sections of the school will be converted into New York's Times Square, a Rat Pack casino and a Central Perk cafM-X.

The school's gym also will feature an inflatable track with electric carts shaped like toilet bowls and a human foosball game.

"Everyone understands how important it is to provide a safe option for kids - one that could be fun and they could get excited about," said Lorraine Seelaus, chairwoman of River Hill's after-prom party, which raised $12,000 from community and school organizations and parents.

Organizers are using dazzling prizes to draw students into the after-prom parties. At each of the school's events, students must be present to claim their prizes when raffles are drawn - an incentive for the kids to stay until the very end to win grand prizes, such as a computer, TV or microwave.

Last year, Jenn Bruns, 16, a junior at Mount Hebron, was the lucky recipient of two raffle prizes: a college dorm package that included a TV, a phone and a refrigerator, and a $250 shopping spree.

This year, her mother, Linda Bruns, in charge of buying prizes, bought a number of electronic items - such as a microwave and a TV-DVD player - filling their living room with large boxes. Jenn already has eyed the items that she'd like to win at the after-prom party.

"I want the tanning basket and the iPod," Jenn said.

Still, there is a certain issue of "coolness" or the lack thereof for some students - something that the parents acknowledge.

"What will happen is that enough people will end up going that it won't be uncool," said John McKitterick, president of Oakland Mills PTSA, sponsoring its free after-prom party that's open to all juniors and seniors regardless of whether they're attending prom. "That's OK."

Pia Capra, 16, a junior at Mount Hebron, plans to attend her school's after-prom party again this year because she had a blast last year.

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