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When it comes to keeping kids safe, the popularity of expensive after-prom events with laser tag, inflatable games — even hypnotists — and prizes like laptops is as strong as ever.

This year, some post-prom organizers have found creative ways to raise money while others have adopted smaller budgets. Either way, high school students say they are anticipating the season to see what parents have planned.

Thousands of dollars are raised by parents to provide nonalcoholic after-prom events, often at school and lasting into the wee hours, as a positive alternative to the dangerous scenario in which kids leave their proms and drink, then drive, somewhere else.

“We are trying to make this a safe place for our kids to go after prom and still have a good time,” said Beth and Darrell Reeps, organizers of Normal Community High School’s after prom.

Jamie Stone, a Central Catholic High School junior, was among those looking forward to prom events last week. Her prom was Saturday — the first of the Twin City prom season, which runs until May 5 when Bloomington and Normal Community high schools hold theirs.

“Parents are good at knowing what’s going to be fun,” Stone said last week as she helped decorate for the “Night in Paris” prom theme at the Bloomington school.

Some kids go only to after-prom parties because they don’t have dates, they don’t like dressing up or they just don’t want to go.

“We have more kids go to after-prom than prom,” said Michele Pugh, after-prom chairwoman at Bloomington High School.

Parents raised more than $11,000 for the BHS event with about half spent on prizes for students. They’ve employed creative fundraising, such as planting pink flamingos on lawns and charging $25 to have them removed, along with more traditional fundraisers.

At CCHS, parents raised about $5,000 for the school’s event.

Tighter budget

At Normal’s University High School, after-prom committee chairwoman Beth Dulee and her team decided to stick to a tighter budget this year.

While they still want to provide a fun and safe environment for teens at Redbird Arena, they are spending less than in the past, said Dulee, acknowledging that several parents told her they thought after-prom spending had gotten out of hand.

“We can’t keep spending $16,000 to $17,000 (on post prom) at our school,” she said.

So, the committee cut the budget to about $10,000, which is enough to include some cool prizes, including televisions, a dorm fridge and gift cards donated by businesses, said Dulee.

New this year, is “cash cab” patterned after the TV program where a cab driver pays people cash for correctly answering trivia questions as he drives them to their destination. U High’s cab is a golf cart that seats six so students can collaborate on questions asked by a parent/quizmaster as they ride around the arena mezzanine.  

“I’m really excited. I think their fundraising efforts are cool. There are new ideas this year,” said U High junior Logan Walling of Normal.

About one-third of the U High money was raised by donations of about $25 from all parents, which pleased some parents tired of selling things. Another third was raised by selling $15 tickets to the event. Students also helped, including at an Applebee’s restaurant flapjack fundraiser. About 250 kids are expected to attend U High’s after-prom party.

Schools with a larger number of students naturally have higher costs for food and other expenses.

For example, NCHS is planning for about 700 students for prom and 600 students at its carnival-themed post-prom party from midnight to 4 a.m. on May 5.

“Students like to be with a big group of friends,” said prom sponsor Karrin Hawkins, and after the dance, they aren’t ready to settle down and go home.

At Normal West, a committee raised more than $15,000 for this year’s April 21 festivities for about 450 students.

To encourage attendance, the ticket price was cut from $13 to $5 per student this year, and the committee added more inflatable games. Remote control cars, laser tag, sports activities, a deejay, photography backdrops and food galore also are planned.

“We want as many kids there as possible,” said Ruth Keith, post-prom chairperson.

“It’s a safe environment, and fun,” said Maddy Funk, a Normal West junior from Hudson.

While after prom is supposed to be a surprise to students, Kyle Zulz, also a junior at Normal West, has heard a little about this year’s Olympic theme.

“I’m expecting it to be a fun time and to make memories with my friends,” he said, adding he is looking forward to tasting foods from around the world, and getting a chance to win some prizes — hopefully a gas card.

Prom tips

* Get the phone numbers of your teen’s prom date and at least five friends so you can reach someone. Make it clear you expect the cell phone to be answered if you call or text.

* Give your kids a curfew. It can be tied to the end of post-prom parties. It’s not a trust issue, it’s a safety issue.

* Remind your teens that everyone has a camera, and to behave in public in a way that would not embarrass them if it ended up on You Tube.

* Remind them that colleges can take away what they have offered — a college acceptance can be revoked for illegal behavior or for getting expelled from high school. Prom night is not Vegas. What happens on prom night could jeopardize a student’s future.

Source: Excerpt from Erika Katz, a parenting expert and Huffington Post contributor who blogs about teen issues.

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