Allison Cole

In an effort to curb drinking among high school students during prom and graduation season, Talawanda High School has put together several initiatives to encourage abstinence from substance abuse.

With prom taking place May 12 and graduation soon after, Talawanda High health and wellness coordinator Amy Macechko said the high school is looking to provide as much education and resources to students and parents as possible regarding underage drinking.

“It is important to get the message out that the majority of students don’t drink,” Macechko said. “When it seems like everyone’s doing it, that’s not the reality.”

She said Talawanda has taken the stance of wanting to be proactive to avoid the consequences that come with teen drinking, such as drunk driving.

One of the bigger initiatives Talawanda is taking to curb drinking before and after prom is use of the newly acquired Breathalyzer device, the Passive Alcohol Sensor.

Vicki Brunn, principal of Talawanda High School, said the device, described as being as small as a transistor radio, will be used to check students’ breaths for alcohol as they enter the prom.

Brunn said there is an opening on the end of the device through which students will state their name. This will confirm that the student is on a list of students allowed into the dance, while also checking that no alcohol was consumed prior to prom.

Should a student be found with alcohol on their breath, Brunn said parents will be called and the student could face up to a 10-day suspension from school.

Brunn however points out that the device is very sensitive and could be set off by any recent use of mouthwash. She said should this happen, the student will have the option of sitting for 15 minutes outside of the dance before being tested again to ensure that no alcohol was consumed.

Another effort to prevent teen drinking is the Youth Initiative Team, coordinated by Miami University’s Coalition for a Healthy Community, a part of Miami’s Office of Health Education, created to promote health and wellness among Miami students. This group consists of Talawanda 10-12 graders looking to provide alternative activities to high-risk behaviors of teens.

The group is responsible for producing the Prom Planner. According the Macechko, this booklet is given to all juniors and seniors at Talawanda High School and consists of details about prom such as hair, dresses and tuxedos, while also offering tips on what not to do at prom in the form of prevention messages.

Dan Urra, coalition administrator with Miami’s Student Health Services, said students at Miami work closely with this group to create alternatives to drinking and promote prevention methods.

He said that all communities where there is a close university campus and community tie experiences the influence of college students to high school students. He said part of the work these groups do together is in hopes of having college students understand the influence their actions can have on a younger audience.

“It is important to remember that the college students’ behavior doesn’t just affect themselves,” Urra said. “There is always someone watching.”

Another group Urra emphasized as being important not just for parents but for anyone who can legally purchase alcohol is Parents Who Host Loose the Most. While this group is aimed at informing parents of the dangers of underage drinking, Urra said it is important to relate its messages to anyone overage who could potentially purchase alcohol for minors.

This group, in addition to informing parents of the dangers of underage drinking, also discusses the health and legal consequences of teen substance abuse – a concern that Talawanda High School principal Vicki Brunn said is evident among parents this year with no after-prom party hosted by the school.

Brunn said this is the first year that no prom after party will occur for students, and parents are showing concern.

Among the reasons for no party are cost and liability issues, along with difficulty in getting enough parents involved to host the event.

But Brunn said this does not mean teens cannot be safe after the prom.

“There are a lot of things families can do after prom to keep kids safe,” Brunn said.

She also said she hopes the new Ohio law restricting teen drivers from driving with a certain number of passengers and at certain times of the night helps with the issue of free time for teens after prom.

“We want everyone to feel they can be at this school in a healthy atmosphere,” Macechko said.