The goal is keeping prom night safe

Teens reminded of drunken-driving perils

nonalcoholic parties planned

April 20, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

From hosting elaborate after-prom parties to placing wrecked cars outside high schools, school officials in Howard County are doing more than ever before to prevent drunken driving on prom night.

Officials say recent teen driving tragedies have prompted an aggressive two-pronged approach: remind students again and again - and as graphically as possible - about the dangers of drunken driving, and at the same time provide a safe alternative to alcohol-drenched private parties.

For the first time, all 12 county high schools are holding after-prom parties, noted Mary Ellen Creasy, vice president for Howard County's PTA Council and coordinator of after-prom efforts countywide.

While Oakland Mills, Mount Hebron and Hammond have been holding after-prom parties for six, eight and 11 years, respectively, most schools, including River Hill, Atholton, Glenelg and Wilde Lake, started the tradition within the past three years, she said. Marriotts Ridge, which has juniors for the first time this year, is holding its first after-prom party.

The trend really took hold three years ago, when representatives of school PTSAs began getting together several times a year to compare notes, said Creasy. Since the goal of the parties is to entice students to stay in one alcohol-free place after the prom, the events tend to be both elaborate and inexpensive for students, often $5 or $10 for admission, food and entertainment.

Long Reach High School will hold the county's first prom tomorrow at Martin's West. It has rented out Life Time Fitness in Columbia for its after-prom party. In addition to letting those who attend use the pools, hot tubs and exercise equipment, the event will include movies, karaoke, dance classes and photo booths.

Atholton, Hammond, Howard, Reservoir and Wilde Lake are taking over the AMC movie theater at The Mall in Columbia, and Mount Hebron's party will be at Dave and Buster's in Arundel Mills mall.

Lynne Javier, co-chair of Howard High School's after-prom party, which, like the parties at other schools, is sponsored by the school PTSA, said the school held its first after-prom party three years ago after a student was killed in a car accident on homecoming weekend. The accident was not alcohol-related, but it did make people think about teen safety, particularly in relationship to the prom.

"We just started talking about kids and safety and all sorts of things," said Javier. The school's first after-prom party was held the next spring.

To put the event together, Javier relies on about 60 parents to work at the party, baking cookies, running the karaoke machines or manning the chocolate fountain. More parents are needed to set up beforehand and clean up afterward.

Javier estimates event costs at about $10,000, including $3,600 to rent the movie theater. Students pay $5, which covers everything from food to movies to arcade games and door prizes.

That means most of the money comes from donations.

Though students typically wait until the very last minute to buy after-party tickets - so they can see what their friends are doing - Javier expects as many as 400 to attend this year.

Many promgoers are grateful for a good time and a safe venue, noted Creasy, who added that even abstaining partygoers can get into trouble if police break up a private party at which alcohol or drugs are used. "Sometimes the after-prom is exactly what they're looking for, to hang out with their friends in a fun celebration," she said.

But after-prom parties are just part of the effort.

Schools are holding assemblies to remind students of the dangers of driving after drinking and are placing severely damaged cars on school' front lawns as a reminder of how serious crashes can be.

This year, the Columbia office of Liberty Mutual has arranged for the wrecked cars and donated $1,000 in cash to each high school, plus $300 in gift cards that can be used as prizes to students who attend the after-prom parties.

Mark Mangus, sales manager of the Columbia office, said he was inspired to support school efforts to curtail unsafe driving after a friend of his daughter was killed while speeding on his last day at River Hill High School in 2003.

Although that incident did not involve alcohol, Mangus said, "it rocked the school and my daughter down to their foundations."

Through his insurance company, Mangus is placing wrecked cars at each high school and is organizing Jaws of Life demonstrations at Atholton and Centennial, he said. The cars will be at the schools the week before the prom. "We really want to raise the awareness of the kids," he said.

"When I brought this up, I took it to my bosses; they were 100 percent supportive of it," he said.

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