Sheriff and other officials congratulate parish’s graduating seniors but remind them to resist under-age drinking; School officials monitor prom night and Project Graduation aims for safe graduation night

Posted: April 29th, 2013 | Filed under: News Releases

There’s the pomp and circumstance that go with a high school graduation. But there is also the yearning of graduates to celebrate, and maybe too hard. Maybe drink or do drugs and drive from one place to another, risking their lives and others on the road.

Sheriff James Pohlmann, along with officials at Chalmette High – which has its prom night May 11 and graduation ceremony May 16 – and volunteers with the nonprofit St. Bernard Project Graduation congratulate all seniors who live in St. Bernard Parish.

But they also want to remind them to resist under-age drinking or using drugs as part of their celebration and to encourage them to look for safe ways to have their fun and create good memories of their final days in high school.

“Sadly, alcohol consumption leading to car crashes is one of the main causes of death and injury among teenagers,’’ Sheriff Pohlmann said.

“We all want you to have fun,’’ the sheriff said.“But don’t make a mistake celebrating your graduation that you will regret for the rest of your life.’’ During prom and graduation season in April, May and June, hundreds of students under the age of 21 have been killed or injured in alcohol-or drug-related traffic crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. One-third of the alcohol-related accidents involving teens each year occur during those three months, Sheriff Pohlmann said.

Experts say the biggest deterrent to under-age drinking is having parents or guardians who talk to their teens about its dangers, the sheriff said. What can they do?

Talk to your teen-agers about drinking before prom and graduation, the sheriff said. “Send clear messages that you do not want your teen to drink alcohol and tell them why you have that value.”

Other tips:

• Find out who is driving among your teen’s group that night. Make sure that everyone understands that under no circumstances should anyone get into a vehicle when the driver has been drinking alcohol. Limit the number of passengers to minimize distractions for the driver.

• Require them to always wear their seatbelts.

School officials do their best to provide a safe environment for graduates to celebrate on prom night and St. Bernard’s Project Graduation – a nonprofit group of volunteers including parents – has a post-graduation all-night party for students which doesn’t include alcohol.

Schools Superintendent Doris Voitier and Chalmette High Principal Wayne Warner make sure the prom is monitored by adults and that music and dinner are provided. Students are monitored as they enter and aren’t allowed inside if they have been drinking, Warner said.

He said students are encouraged to have fun in a safe environment and stay for the whole prom rather than leaving early.

“It’s a big night for them,’’ Warner said, and officials don’t want anything to detract from that. “We provide activities for a positive experience. And we emphasize students should avoid things that could ge them in trouble.”

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, St. Bernard’s Project Graduation hosts a night of games, music and food for graduating seniors, who even get a chance at cash prizes if they stay the night in a lockdown environment.

Immediately after the graduation ceremonies in the front half of the Frederick Sigur Civic Center in Chalmette, the scene shifts to the ballroom in the back of the building for an all-night party until 6 a.m. the next morning.

“It is a carnival-like atmosphere,’’ said Brenda Simpson, chairwoman of St. Bernard Project Graduation, who has been active with the group for years. “In a way it’s their last night to be a kid before they have to think about going to work or get ready for further studies and a career.’’

“We provide many activities including a drawing at the end of the night for cash.” Simpson said Project Graduation, a nonprofit charitable organization chartered by Louisiana and recognized as a (501)C3 group by the Internal Revenue Service, can use more volunteers for this year’s event. They must be at leasr 21.

Anyone interested in helping out can call her at (504) 682-0753. “If people can just donate a couple hours of their time that would be great,” she said. “We organize people to work in shifts.”

Last year, Simpson said, approximately 160 students participated in Project Graduation .

Gwen Price, co-chairwoman, said she is involved out of concern for the safety of graduates who might be tempted to over-celebrate on their big night. “We don’t want them drinking and driving,” she said, and prefer they have fun in a more controlled atmosphere.

If students want to leave without staying the night their parents or guardians are notified.

Sheriff Pohlmann said there will be a Sheriff’s Office presence at the Project Graduation party.

Lt. Justin Meyers of the Sheriff’s Office has been volunteering to help chaperone the party for several years.

He said he enjoys seeing the graduates have fun in a positive way. Meyers said he stayed for the all-night Project Graduation party when he was a high school senior and remembers it as a great night.

“It was one of the best times I ever had.’’