Students at Long Reach High School in Columbia are readying their attire for prom night: tuxedos, evening gowns and corsages during the event; sweatshirts, hoodies and flip-flops afterward.
Like many county juniors and seniors, Long Reach students will get gussied up for their May 3 formal gala in Baltimore — then dress down and head to a popular prom night after-party.
Launched by the PTA Council of Howard County's Project Safe, the After Prom events are staged independently at each of the county's 12 high schools as an alternative to the private post-prom parties where alcohol and drug use could arise.
The parent-teacher groups have made After Prom events a haven for students by hammering home the entertainment value. They break out movies, prizes and lavish spreads of food in the hope that students will consider it more enticing than a private party.
Thus far, it appears to be working. Students and adults say high-schoolers flock to After Prom by the hundreds; some even visit the gatherings without attending prom at all.
"Nobody had to really convince or talk anybody into this," said Long Reach High senior Nicole Cote, 17.
She said among the prizes given away at the Long Reach After Prom will be a Sony PlayStation 4 console. "That's a lot of incentive for students in high school. There are money prizes, so you think: 'We're in high school. Money is a big incentive for us.' "
Officials of the PTA Council say they partner with the school system, county government, the Maryland Highway Traffic Safety Program and HC Drug Free to stage After Prom events. They say the idea was initially patterned on similar post-prom events in Montgomery County; schools in Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County also stage similar events.
"After Prom parties help increase awareness about the dangers of drug and alcohol use, and drinking and driving, and have become a safe alternative to other potentially dangerous activities on what should be a fun and memorable night for our county's teens," said Mary T. Phelan, a Howard County police spokeswoman.
Olga Butler, Long Reach PTSA After Prom chair, said her school's event will be held at the school May 4 —immediately after the Long Reach prom ends in Baltimore — from midnight to 4 a.m. Long Reach's After Prom tickets are $10 each; events include laser tag, a dance party, video games and movies. Food is being provided by a local Applebee's restaurant, she said.
Butler said the school budgeted $14,000 for After Prom. Last year, 225 students attended the event, including a number who did not go to prom, she said. Last year, organizers required partygoers to stay until it was over; this year, she said, students will be allowed to leave before After Prom ends — with their parents' permission.
"Prom really is the formal part of the event," Butler said. "It gives them the opportunity to dress up — the hair, the makeup, the limo, all the niceties of prom. Coming to After Prom is ending the night with a meal and socializing. Kick off your heels, throw on your flip-flops."
Marriott Ridge High School's After Prom will be held at the Glenwood Community Center in Cooksville from 11:30 p.m. to 4 a.m. May 3, after the school's prom ends at 11 p.m. in Baltimore. The school has buses available to transport students from prom to After Prom.
"We're trying to provide students with a safe and fun environment, because the underage drinking is an issue," said Lisa Brusio Coster, Marriotts Ridge PTSA After Prom chair. She said 400 students attended last year's After Prom. "We're trying to keep them entertained and safe and off the road."
Tickets for the event are $10 and transportation is also $10, she said.
Coster said Marriott Ridge's After Prom will include a mechanical surfboard, a 3-on-3 basketball tournament and a massage therapist.
Marriotts Ridge's After Prom budget is more than $20,000, said Coster, who said each high school receives a $2,000 county government grant for After Prom. About 80 parent volunteers take part and two student resource officers will be on hand, Coster said.
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At River Hill High School, the event is called Post Prom Party — or P3 — and will be held at the school.
Diane Mikulis, River Hill High PTSA's Post Prom Party chair, said 611 tickets were sold for the event last year. This year's party features a "mechanical shark ride," a wrecking ball and streamed photos from prom or pre-prom dinners that students and parents can send to a Flickr account.
Mikulis said the event is popular with River Hill juniors and seniors who don't attend prom.
"Many students feel that prom is too expensive with the dress, tux, tickets, limo, dinner," Mikulis said. "Some groups of kids go out to dinner, then come to P3 and have a great time."
Students say After Prom became a popular destination from the outset, and they dismiss detractors who presume a night of playing it safe indoors can't be entertaining.
"You can't doubt something until you've actually experienced it," said Long Reach High senior Khalin Zarsah, 18. "Before you put down the idea of After Prom you should at least try it and understand what it's all about."