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This promise is worth keeping

April 21, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

While students across the Tri-State pick out prom formal wear, some of their peers are posting statistics and posing worst case scenarios in a safe decisions drive to keep fewer students from being buried in their choice tuxedos and sequin dresses.

The national Prom Promise campaign, sponsored by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., is used in county high schools to campaign against the potentially harmful consequences of using drugs and alcohol on prom night. Through the program, students can promise not to use alcohol and other drugs by signing a pledge during the week before their school's prom.

"There are a lot of drugs and alcohol out there. We need to show them what can go wrong when they think everything is going right," said Chastity Gloyd, Williamsport High School Students Against Destructive Decisions adviser.

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Most Tri-State high schools are staging Prom Promise assemblies and mock alcohol-related car crashes. Members from local police departments and rescue services volunteer to go through the motions of responding to a car crash so students can see firsthand what might happen when someone drinks and drives. Chambersburg Area Senior High School will not host the program this year because its coordinator recently resigned, said Dennis Hillwig, the school's principal.

During the week before North Hagerstown High School's prom, students will draw chalk outlines of people on school property and write statistics about alcohol related-deaths next to the outlines, the school's SADD adviser, Stacy Donegan, said.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, of the 102 people in Maryland between the ages of 15-20 killed in car crashes in 2000, 41 were under the influence of alcohol.

Nationally, during the prom weekend of May 19-21, 2000, of the 234 people killed in car accidents, 142 were alcohol-related deaths, according to NHTSA figures.

"When I read the statistics, it's overwhelming," said Smithsburg High School junior Sara Shafi. "They don't need to drink to have a good time."

A Smithsburg High student will dress up like the Grim Reaper and designate students who represent an alcohol-related death to be taken out of class as part of the school's Prom Promise week. "Dead" students, whose faces are painted white, are not allowed to talk to anyone for the rest of the day, Shafi said.

Kenda Staubs, Hedgesville High SADD adviser, said that at her school the Grim Reaper pushes a hospital gurney into a classroom and calls the name of a student. The Grim Reaper then quietly carts that person out of the room.

"It's really creepy, but it's good creepy," Staubs said.

At the end of that day, juniors and seniors will attend an assembly in which all those who were taken by the Grim Reaper will take the stage. The students will hold lighted candles in front of their white painted faces as their obituaries are read. Each student's candle will be extinguished after their obituary is read, Staubs said.

A mock sobriety checkpoint will be set up in Williamsport High School's parking lot by members of the Williamsport Police Department, Gloyd said.

"I think that does freak them out a little bit - pulling into the parking lot and seeing a policeman flag them over," she said.

The aftereffects of driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol are also being addressed in Tri-State schools.

Williamsport adviser Gloyd said an emergency room nurse will talk to students about what drunk drivers experience in the trauma center after an accident. She said the nurse is expected to bring hospital equipment.

Staubs said that in years past the school has brought in a magistrate to explain to students about driving-under-the-influence charges and how drunken drivers are handled through the legal system.

Matt Wilson, adviser to the Clear Spring High School Fellowship of Christian Athletes which is undertaking Prom Promise at the school, said proms are always pushed toward the end of the school year when juniors and seniors are getting excited about the prospects of moving on and getting out. That makes them particularly susceptible to making reckless decisions, he said.

Wilson said if about 20 or 30 students took a forcible stand against drunken driving it may be enough to persuade others to do the same.

"Peer pressure is such a huge thing -not just negatively, but positively," he said.

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