Prom pressure

By ROBERT LINNEHAN | The Cherry Hill Sun

Prom season means tuxedos, excited students, limousines, and unfortunately more pressures for students to give in to alcohol and drugs. At this time of year school districts throughout the state design and promote special programming to help make their students think twice before drinking or succumbing to drugs.

According to Students Against Destructive Decisions and a national student from Liberty Mutual Insurance, 90 percent of teens believe their counterparts are more likely to drink and drive on prom night. SADD reports that there were 380 teen alcohol-related traffic deaths during prom and graduation season — typically lasting through April, May, and June — in 2007, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

More than one in three teenagers say their parents have actually allowed them to attend parties during this season where it is known that alcohol will be served, SADD reported.

Barbara Mitidieri, Coordinator of Student Activities at Cherry Hill High School West, said each year the district and the high school put an emphasis on several different programs and events to help steer students away from drinking and drugs.

Paired with the Cherry Hill Fire District, EMTs, and Cherry Hill Police Department, there are several yearly events that the district uses to warn students about the specific dangers of drinking and driving, she said. The first, and one of the most popular, is a “Beer Goggle” demonstration the police department gives to the senior students.

Students are given the opportunity to wear specialized glasses that show what it feels like to be inebriated at different alcohol blood levels. The students are asked to perform menial tasks — such as bouncing a ball, walking a straight line — to get an idea of how much alcohol can affect their actions, Mitidieri said.

Sure there is humor involved in the demonstration, she said, but it’s nervous laughter.

“Of course you laugh, but the one thing you always recognize is when kids start to chuckle, it’s usually all nerves. It’s the nervous recognition that what they’re watching is true,” she said.

One of the most powerful annual demonstrations is the mock crash, which is scheduled for Thursday, May 20 from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. The police and fire departments organize to have a completely destroyed car on the lawn of the high school, complete with several students who are dead, injured, or trapped in the vehicle.

It shows the students the horror of a drunk driving car accident, Mitidieri said. From there the students are brought into the auditorium to speak with police officers and to speak with the students who were chosen to act out the “victims” of the car crash.

“It’s trying. Kids have opted out in the past. The kids themselves, it’s a good deterrent because they think about this, they think about their friends lying on the ground, what they would go through,” Mitidieri said. “We’ve had kids in tears, kids who have had to talk to counselors.”

The junior class students are also given a special presentation from Bryn Mawr Rehab, who bring in past victims for drunk driving accidents or people who were driving their cars under the influence and got into accidents.

Each presenter shares with the students their own personal trials, she said, and warns them of the inherent dangers of drinking and driving and the damage it can cause.

At the actual proms themselves, Mitidieri said there are specialized alcohol sensors — employees who monitor students before entering — to make sure the young students don’t come to the event after drinking.

“All of this programming is designed to make these kids think twice about their actions,” she said.