WILLIAMSBURG— Are "after proms" an after thought?
The three high schools in Williamsburg-James City County have hosted annual post-dance parties for years in hopes of luring high schoolers away from drinking parties. Free food and door prizes, even when coupled with adult supervision, proved effective alternatives to post-prom mischief.
But PTSA members say the formula is no longer working. The parent volunteers are still throwing a lavish party, but dwindling number of students attend. And school administrators and volunteers are beginning to wonder if it is worth it.
At Lafayette High School the PTSA canceled the event this year after a 20-year run. PTSA President Lisa Lucas said while the event used to draw hundreds, last year only 50 students attended.
At a recent PTSA meeting at Jamestown High School, the parent volunteers debated the merits of holding the event. Ultimately, the PTSA decided to host an after prom, but with reservations and inklings that this may be the last year they do it.
And the Warhill High School PTSA decided to hold the event this year, but PTSA President Mary Dillon said attracting students to the event is increasingly difficult and expensive.
"I wish somebody would give me the answer. We tried prizes, we tried getting a D.J., now we are trying a new location," Dillon said. "Last year as great as the prizes were they weren't the bait we hoped they would be."
At the Warhill Sports Complex, news of Lafayette canceling the event elicited little uproar among members of the Lafayette boy's soccer team.
"I don't think I was gonna go anyway. It's tacky, put together by the school. It is at a bowling alley. That is not exciting," said Luis Merced, 17.
Merced said he would rather hang out with his friends than go to a school-sponsored event.
Jason Eckenrode, an 18-year-old senior agreed.
"I'm not too let down. Prom is like the real thing," he said.
A group of Jamestown girls were more positive toward the idea.
Juliette Sims, a 17-year-old senior, said she did not go to Jamestown's after-prom party last year, but when she heard about iPod giveaways, she wished she had gone.
Other members of the soccer team said they had attended last year and enjoyed bowling.
Maura Hyland, an 18-year-old senior said afterproms were a safe alternative to other parties, and she could see why the PTSA sponsored it each year. But when asked if safety was enough to make her want to attend, Hyland said no.
High cost, low turnout
An informal survey of students at the Warhill Sports Complex produced an array of suggestions different students said would get them to come: laser tag, Chick-fil-A, bowling, catering, better prizes.
Dede Garner, the faculty-parent liaison on the PTSA at Warhill, said fickle requests from students made planning the event a frustrating endeavor.
Garner said the school surveyed students what they wanted at the after prom. She said the committee used the feedback and advertised the changes, but still only 120 kids came which is a fraction of the 400 students who attend prom each year.
And it's not just the ambivalence of students making afterprom a tough event to plan. There has been little support from parents as well.
Jamestown PTSA president Laura Tripp said Jamestown principal Catherine Worley sent letters home to the parents of every junior and senior recruiting helpers, and only one parent said they would help.
Tripp said 20 to 30 volunteers were needed to pull off the event. She said soliciting sponsorships, picking up prizes and coordinating volunteers is a tremendous amount of work and that, in the past, the PTSA had "driven ourselves crazy" trying to make the event special.
Tripp encouraged parents to volunteer to help with the event and said she feared it would not survive without additional support.
In addition to the time commitment, PTSAs have to question whether the number of students attending justifies the cost.
Dillon said the Warhill PTSA holds two fundraisers each year: a car show and a 5K race. The revenue from those events goes toward mini-grants for teachers and after prom. Dillon said last year the event cost $3,000.
At Jamestown the event has a $2,000 budget, but Tripp said the PTSA breaks even through ticket sales.
Worley said roughly 400 students attend the school's prom each year, and Tripp said only a quarter or so have been coming to the after prom.
"The frustration of it is, think about that number of volunteers you need, and then you turn around and have an event and 125 or 130 kids show up," Tripp said.
McKinnon can be reached at 757-345-2341.