High school rites of passage -- alcohol-free

Graduation with Mickey Mouse? Prom time and graduation are upon the nation's high school juniors and seniors. Images abound of youthful galas: formal evening dresses, tuxedos, corsages and boutonnieres, caps, gowns, diplomas, and speeches.

Unfortunately, drinking and driving often accompany these springtime passage rites. Mixing alcohol with year-end ceremonies is something that parents, teachers, and many students themselves, want to eliminate. Even further, school officials want their young people to seek alcohol-free activities on both prom night and graduation night. They are backing up their concern with programs that provide such a choice.

Enter Mickey Mouse.

* For the 20th consecutive year, Disneyland will sponsor an alcohol-free Grad Nigth program. Begun in 1961 for high schools in southern California, the program has become so popular that the home of Mickey and Donald will host more than 140,000 graduating students from 12 states, Mexico, and Canada.

"Any high school may attend that wishes to," says Adrian van Deudekom, program coordinator of Grad Night for Disneyland. All rides and attractions remain open from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. on nine separate evenings set aside for seniors and their dates.

Transportation to and from Disneyland as well as chaperons must be provided by each high school. Once in the Aneheim area, all students come to Disneyland on charter buses. No private cars are allowed to Grad Night. Special group rates are provided.

* In Massachusetts, more than 100 high schools are participating in an alcohol prevention program with a prom-related theme, "The Driver doesn't drink, " Sponsored by the Massachusetts Alcohol Resource Center for Primary Prevention via an information packet provided to health teachers, the program includes films for classroom discussion, bumper stickers, and other related material that focus on the problem of alcohol abuse and auto accidents.

"Rather than use scare tactics where students just view movies of car wrecks, " says Sue Downey, an alcohol-prevention counselor, "We present material where students see other kids their own age discussing with parents the issue of drinking and driving."

Getting local media, civic organizations, and church groups involved -- in addition to the schools -- is the program's long-range goal. "It is a community-wide effort," says Kathleen Flaherty, director of the program.

Local 103 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Dorchester, Mass., donated the use of its billboard which prominently displays along a major expressway to thousands of motorists the message: "Friends don't let friends drive drunk."

* Bozeman Senior High School, in Bozeman, Mont., has a "Senior Sober" program that offers an unusual example of what a cadre of concerned parents, teachers, and students can do to offer alcohol-free alternatives at graduation.

Its proponents say that what Bozeman does can be done anywhere. Last year 120 out of400 seniors participated.

"It's not a question of whether students are going to go out or not after graduation," says Jim Olsen, guidance counselor at Bozeman, "It's a question of taking the time and having the concern to provide good, fun alternatives for kids so that when they look around for something to do, there's an alcohol-free option there."

All students who participate must agree that there will be no alcohol for the duration of the night. The starting time is 11 p.m. and rendezvous points for getting instructions are scattered throughout the town. Only two students and two faculty members know the entire program. Students say it is the element of mystery and surprise, plus the enthusiasm from past years that everyone will have a good time, that keeps things moving.

The high school swimming pool, as well as a local bowling alley are open. A must is an old-fashioned barn dance. Soft drinks are donated for each event by a local bottling company. "Senior Sober" ends the following morning at 5 a.m. with a police-escorted snake dance down Main Street and a sitdown breakfast.

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