By FELICIA KRIEG
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Area high schools hold after-prom parties year after year in hopes that students will stay out of the trouble during and after the highly anticipated social event.
Prom season is one of four times each year where underage drinking is most prevalent, said Sgt. Frank Mercier, coordinator of STOP-DWI.
The other three are graduation and the first 30 days of the the fall and spring semesters of college, he said.
In addition to drunken driving, other concerns for police during these times are assaults, sexual assaults and binge drinking.
Out of the 639 DWI arrests in Clinton County last year, 57 of the defendants were under 21, some as young as 17, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
HELPING WITH COSTS
The schools each received $1,000 from the Clinton County Sheriff's Department STOP-DWI program to fund alcohol-free parties. The money that runs STOP-DWI comes solely from fines paid by DWI offenders.
The agency's board has steadily increased the amount of money they donate to the schools, from $5,000 in 2009 to the $9,000 donated this year, Mercier said.
The organization has awarded money to high schools for after-prom parties since 1992, when Rick Hazen began presenting a mock DWI crash as a warning to students. Hazen also helped create the Victims Impact Panel program, at which he speaks.
'FUN WITHOUT DRINKING'
"I think it's the perfect way to spend the money," said Cheryl Maggy, Plattsburgh High School nurse and co-organizer of the after-prom party.
"You're teaching the kids that they can have a fun time at one of those milestone evenings without having to drink."
This marks the 10th year that Plattsburgh High School has hosted an after-prom party.
Maggy is organizing the event with PHS guidance counselor Heather Hall. About 15 parents have volunteered to help, so far.
The school usually raises about $9,000 through contributions from local businesses and fundraising events, Maggy said.
Right after the May 17 prom, students will be bused from PHS to Stafford Middle School for the party, which starts at 11:30 p.m. and continues until 4 a.m.
In years past, between 180 and 200 students have attended the party, Maggy said.
"I think they look forward to it as much or maybe even a little bit more than the actual dance. It's really a fun, safe evening."
The Backup Plan, a student band, will play as people arrive, and there are many activities to entertain them, along with plenty of food, Maggy said.
Students can swim in the pool, play inflatable or carnival-type games and enter to win donated prizes.
Crafts like sand art will also be available for students who aren't interested in playing the games, Maggy said.
One of the most popular attractions are the two massage therapists that the school employs for the night, she said.
Hypnotist Michael Blaine's show is also well-attended.
At the end of the night, some students will win $100 in raffles or other prizes, such as gift certificates.
Blaine will also perform that same night at Northeastern Clinton Central School for prom-goers and their dates.
After students enjoy the dance on the Spirit of Ethan Allen, they'll be bused to NCCS for the party, which will last until 5 a.m.
"I think (prom) does increase underage drinking and the pressure to go to parties," said NCCS Principal Stephen Gratto.
Without a school-sponsored party, "people would be scrambling to find a cool after-prom parties to go to," he said. "It takes a lot of pressure off the kids."
Lina Birch, chair of the NCCS After-Prom Committee, is originally from Montreal, and she said students there often go to nightclubs after the prom and engage in potentially dangerous activities.
"We can make it attractive enough (here) for them not to go to hotel rooms or not to go drinking. We do a lot as far as entertainment."
The committee has planned for an obstacle course, character artist, airbrush tattoo artist, mechanical bull, palm reader, basketball, volleyball and large photo booth where up to 12 students can take pictures with their friends.
Ten parents and a couple of teachers are assisting Birch with the party planning.
'BELIEVE IN CAUSE'
Between donations and fundraising efforts, about $12,300 has been raised for the NCCS party so far, Birch said.
That doesn't include all the prizes that have been donated, including a $300 designer watch, designer sunglasses and movie passes.
A business owner herself, Birch, who owns Birch's Corner in Mooers, knows how difficult it can be when people come asking for donations.
But businesses are donating just as much money as they did two years ago, when Birch last served as chairperson of the committee.
"They're still being very generous because they really believe in the cause."
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REPORT UNDERAGE DRINKING
The State Police have a hotline dedicated to underage drinking enforcement.
To make a report, call 1-866-under21.