Are prom after-parties dying out?

Sarah M. Wojcik, The (allentown) Morning Call
Students and their guests arrive at Red Lion Hotel Harrisburg for the Northern York High School Prom in Harrisburg, Saturday, May 26, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

ALLENTOWN – When it comes to convincing throngs of high school students to show up to an alcohol-free party stretching until dawn after prom night, 17-year-old Parkland senior Dani Colapietro believes a good pitch is key.

“We want people to think of this as our last night together as a class. It’s not just a way to make sure you don’t get in trouble,” said Colapietro, who serves as student president for the Class of 2019. “Hopefully that pulls on people’s heartstrings a little bit.”

But if it’s sentimental nostalgia that helps get them in the door, it will take more than that to keep them there. A lineup of refreshments, events and activities ? including a mock “Family Feud” game, improv comedy and inflatable jousting will be the way to do that. None of that comes cheap.

Parkland’s 18th Post Prom Party, which will be held May 11, has a price tag of about $40,000, much of that covered by fundraising and donations from area businesses, according to Nicole Mehta McGalla, director of community relations and development.

Parkland is just one of a handful of school districts in the Lehigh Valley that still hosts the prom after-party a tradition dating to the 1980s that has dwindled in recent years due to declining attendance and rising costs.

The motivation for the post-prom party hasn’t changed over the decades. The ultimate goal is to keep teens off the roads and away from drugs and alcohol at parties.

Statistics show that tragedy can strike on prom night. According to the American Automobile Association, from 2013 to 2017, an average of 161 teen drivers are killed nationally each May in fatal crashes. In May 2017 alone, there were 193 drivers ages 16 to 18 killed.

And alcohol is a factor in many crashes involving young drivers. In 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, 24% of crashes involving drivers ages 15 to 20 involved at least some alcohol, according to National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration.

Low attendance at the parties has prompted some districts to cancel the event. That’s what happened at the Northampton Area High School, which nixed the post-prom party in 2013 after only about six years because so few students were attending, Superintendent Joseph Kovalchik said.

Larger districts, such as Bethlehem and Allentown, also did away with the events, though they were popular at one time, according to a 1991 Morning Call article that highlighted the trend. Back then, the Liberty High School post-prom party was well-attended and owed some of its success to the fact that students were permitted to leave midway through.

Saucon Valley also used to hold a post-prom party, but officials at the district said that’s not been the case for several years.

Pen Argyl High School canceled its event around 2011 when not enough parents stepped up to organize the event, said Krista Campbell, a high school teacher who serves as a junior class adviser at the school.

Neither Freedom nor Liberty high schools have hosted such a party in more than a decade, according to district officials.

Still, post-prom parties have had staying power in other Lehigh Valley districts notably Parkland, Easton Area High School and Emmaus High School.

Post-prom parties have been going on in Parkland for 18 years, in Easton for at least 30 years and at Emmaus High School for 37 years.

The Emmaus High School AfterBall, like most other post-prom parties, does not require attendees to go to prom in order to participate. This year, the party is being held on May 3 and the night will be brimming with food, music, games, raffles and prizes. The grand prize, according to Lisa Lucchesi-Wood, the administrative assistant for the school’s Class of 2022, is a used car. Lucchesi-Wood did not provide a cost estimate for the event.

McGalla said Parkland used to give away cars during the parties, and she’s hopeful that she can snag a donation for this year’s grand prize, too.

The cost of the Parkland event, like the one in the East Penn School District, is covered mostly by fundraising and donations, McGalla said. But Parkland has found other ways to pay for the event, too. The Parkland parking tax for juniors and seniors who drive to school is set aside for the post-prom party, McGalla said. That’s about $14,000.

Tickets cost $15, $10 in advance, typically raising about $8,000. About 750 students go to prom in Parkland and 850 attend the post-prom party, McGalla said.

Heintzelman Funeral Home in North Whitehall Township also pledged to donate $10,000 each year for three years. With only one more year left in the agreement, McGalla said she’s already hunting for a new regular sponsor for the event.

Another $12,000 or so comes from various donations and fundraising, McGalla said.

“We’re always concerned about financial support,” she said. “We want to keep this going.”

Colapietro said she’s very excited about this year’s post-prom offerings. They include a dodge ball game, a 3-on-3 basketball tournament, inflatable jousting and a Family Feud game with poll answers gathered from Parkland seniors. The events, which also include a comedy and improv show from ArtsQuest, will be scattered throughout the night and morning to ensure students don’t leave.

Once students leave, McGalla said, they’re not allowed back in. For this reason, she said the school and local police are working to dissuade parents from holding their own parties on that night.

“What we’re really trying to do is curb leaving,” she said. “We’re asking parents not to hold their own parties that night. We want the kids to be safe and together in a drug-free zone.”

In Easton, the post-prom party crowd is smaller than in Parkland. The event on May 20 will cost between $8,000 and $10,000, depending on what kind of activities and entertainment is requested by the senior class, Easton Area High School Principal Kyle Geiger said.

Out of the 600-700 students who attend Easton’s prom, he said about 300 show up for the post-prom party. While Geiger said he’d love to see attendance grow, he believes any amount of participation is a win.

“Sometimes this is just the excuse kids need to get out of a peer pressure situation ? saying their parents are requiring them to go,” Geiger said. “I don’t think this is the only answer to making sure kids are safe that night, but I do think it minimizes (bad choices). I think it helps that students have another options.

“Whatever kids are there, are kids that are not doing something bad somewhere else.”