Prom Promise week helps students focus on good decisions

A Berkeley High School student drives on a virtual road -- simulating impaired driving.

Prom is a night every high school student should be able to look back at and remember – friends, dancing, laughing and fun. But for so many parents and students nationwide, it’s remembered for unfortunate and devastating incidents.

A study released by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in April 2017 shows parents are more concerned about student safety on prom night than other events like spring break, graduation and homecoming.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 4,300 individuals of high school age die each year as a result of binge drinking and alcohol related deaths. Other data provided by the CDC shows in 2010 approximately 189,000 persons of high school age visited hospital emergency rooms for injuries related to alcohol consumption.

Berkeley High School’s prom is scheduled for May 12, and administrators are doing everything they can to make sure the event is not memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Led by School Resource Officer (SRO) Travis Dodd of the Moncks Corner Police Department, the school is hosting a week of events for students. Those Prom Promise Week events all have the same goal – to influence students to make better decisions on one of the biggest nights of their young lives.

Officer Dodd began going big on Prom Promise Week while the SRO at Hanahan High School in 2011. It’s now grown from a small event that he planned each year to what students saw Monday at Berkeley High School – officers, police vehicles and food trucks lining the bus loop with additional events planned later in the week.

Prom is special to SRO Dodd. He said he has a personal story of why the night and raising awareness is something he’s been passionate about for several years. He said it’s also a great time to build positive interaction with students and law enforcement.

“It’s just one of those things. It’s not every day that kids get to see law enforcement officers in a good light. They don’t always see some of the things that we do to try and help prevent things,” he said.

Students smiled as they took field sobriety tests, experimented with virtual reality headsets designed to provide an impaired experience and mingled with expert drug and alcohol enforcement officers.

“There’s different things that can cause impairment. There’s different things that can cause various dangers,” SRO Dodd said. His goal on day one of the week of activities was to get students to understand the dangers and consequences. He would much rather see students consider alternatives to unsafe situations and work with law enforcement officers to have a safer prom night.

“We want them to understand that we get it,” he said. “They’re kids. They’re going to make mistakes at some point, but we want them to understand, if they make a mistake, the ramifications they could face.”

By first lunch, more than 150 students had made their way through the bus loop. SRO Dodd said he expected many more for later lunch periods. He described the atmosphere at “positive.” He also said he’s learned the timing of prom seems to be at a time when students are more receptive to the message. That’s why he’s planned events for the remainder of the week.

BHS Principal Steven Steele, other administrators and teachers proudly observed Monday afternoon as officers and students interacted.

“It’s a great sign for our community and our students that we have people who care about students at Berkeley high School this much to go the extra mile to make sure they have a great, safe and awesome prom night,” he said.

Brian Troutman is the digital communication specialist for the Berkeley County School District.