Miami University of OH

Teen leaders form plans for a safer prom, graduation season

By Andy Sedlak, Staff Writer 1:51 AM Friday, February 25, 2011
MIDDLETOWN — The message of sobriety and safety on prom night can never be too clear.

About 140 juniors and seniors from various Butler County high schools met on the campus of Miami University Middletown Thursday to discuss strategies for persuading their peers against drinking driving in the months ahead, proven to be dangerous ones for teens.

Statistics show about one-third of alcohol-related traffic deaths involving teens occur during April, May and June — prom and graduation season.

The fifth annual Prom and Graduation Project Summit was coordinated by the Alcohol and Chemical Abuse Council. Students met in small groups and discussed various strategies used in the past like mock crash demonstrations in school parking lots, posters and “grim reaper” sightings in which a student dressed as the grim reaper pulls unsuspecting students out of class to demonstrate how a teen could exist one moment and not the next.

But students were careful that their strategies didn’t cross over into sources of entertainment.

“Everyone sees (such options) but forgets and still goes out on prom night and drinks,” said Sommer Streeval, a Talawanda senior.

Students thought strategies should lean harder on personal connections. Sophie Fening, a junior at Middletown, said the high school has displayed letters written by elementary kids, urging their upper level peers not to drink and drive.

Fening expanded on the idea.

“If you put them under windshield wipers of (students’) cars, that would be better,” she said. “People won’t stop to look (at letters displayed in the high school).”

Minutes earlier Fening took part in a simulator — a Hyundai Accent with optical mouse pads under its wheels which are wired through the vehicle’s steering column and into a virtual reality headset — demonstrating drunken driving and driving while texting.

Fening ran over a virtual pedestrian taking the “texting” simulator.

“Taking your eyes off the road just for one second is worse than you think it is,” she said.

Various representatives for area law enforcement agencies were on hand to talk with students and help them plan their campaigns moving forward. Students were allowed to pepper law enforcement with questions during a mock press conference.

Middletown police Chief Greg Schwarber met with students Thursday. He liked ideas of incorporating their anti-drinking campaigns to Facebook.

“We’re a resource for them,” said Schwarber, who was hit head-on by a drunken driver in January 2010.

When asked how he kept the students on task to make sure the topic of sobriety was taken seriously, he smiled.

“They’re doing that themselves,” he said.