Project Graduation parties on tap |

Project Graduation parties on tap

Christine Ina Casillas
Vail Mountain Seniors recieved their cap and gowns Friday during an all school assembly.

High school graduates – get ready to party.

A casino room, water polo and sumo wrestling are just some of the events waiting for graduating seniors during Project Graduation at the Avon Recreation Center.

“We’re using the center for after hours to put on a good party,” says Merle Jacobs, the facility’s director.

And the party, started by parents at a parent teachers association meeting, should be a good time, adds Julie Kessenich, special events coordinator for the Avon Recreation Center.

The first of two parties will begin at 10 p.m. Friday for Vail Mountain School seniors, followed May 31, also at 10 p.m., for seniors at Battle Mountain High School.

The program is derived from a group of parents concerned about the amount of drugs and alcohol consumed during prom and graduation parties, said Avon Police Officer Dave Wineman. The consumption raised not only eyebrows but the number of teen-agers getting behind the wheel of a car, hopping from party to party and later taking their friends home.

“A little known fact is even what some consider being little or moderate use, often referred to one or two drinks, can impair judgment enough to increase the likelihood of being involved in an accident by five times,” Wineman says. “No one wants a time of celebration to become a time of tragedy.”

To help with the program, area emergency personnel have adopted a “no tolerance” approach to the use or possession of drugs and alcohol by minors. Under Colorado law, adults can be charged with a class-IV felony for supplying minors with drugs or alcohol.

The no-tolerance approach is not an attempt by emergency services to put a damper on the cause for celebration, but to ensure the safety of the community, says Wineman.

Last month, for example, parents rented a room for their children attending prom, he said. About 15 teen-agers were arrested. When the police department responded to a disturbance call, law-enforcement officers discovered more than $300 worth of alcohol in the hotel room.

And just last week, two minors died in an alcohol-related accident in Denver, leaving one in critical condition.

“We don’t want our kids to live with those consequences of potentially killing another human being,” Wineman says. “Any kid under the legal drinking age caught drinking will be arrested for underage drinking.

“At the graduation party last year, cars were parked everywhere, some with alcohol in them, all these kids having a good time before the event,” he adds. “If they do it this year, they’ll be arrested.”

Wineman says he is particularly worried about girls aged 14 to 18, being in a rowdy room with their dates when drugs and alcohol was involved.

“We’re trying to educate girls about these things,” he says. “Because getting caught with alcohol in situations like that are the least of their worries.”

Project Graduation, meanwhile, provides a safe, drug-free environment, says Kessenich.

“When they’re at such a young age, these things will always continue to happen,” she says. “At least I’ll know where my kids are one night of the year.”

Parent involvement in the program is high. Battle Mountain High School had more than 50 parents as chaperones last year, she said. After all, parents are the ones who created the event, even setting up the displays, games, dances and music.

The program isn’t always at the recreation center, having moved around over the years. But employees of the Avon Recreation Center say they welcome the event.

“What kid doesn’t want to come here?” she said about the recreation center. “They walk away with so much. And they get to win items that they can take with them to college.”

Project Graduation

– Festivities for graduating seniors of Vail Mountain School will begin at 10 p.m. Friday at the Avon Recreation Center.

– For graduating seniors of Battle Mountain High School, festivities are scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. May 31 at the Avon Recreation Center.

Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607 or at

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