Vail Valley grads get safe send-offs |

Vail Valley grads get safe send-offs

Lauren Glendenning
Eagle County, CO Colorado
CVR Project graduation KA 04-28-09

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Graduating from high school is a rite of passage for many teenagers ” a time to celebrate the closing of one chapter and the beginning of another.

It’s also a time when teenagers typically like to party, sometimes to the point of no control.

There were seven teenage alcohol and drug-related deaths during graduation time in Oxford Hills area of Maine in 1979. Locals then got together to offer an alternative party for teenagers ” an all-night party minus the drugs and booze. Six years later, high schools in all 50 states were throwing similar parties, calling them Project Graduation.

Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain High Schools have been hosting Project Graduations for years, and each school does it a little differently. The common theme is that parents volunteer to host the party, providing everything from fundraising events to senior send-off gifts to food.

Ronnie Hedrick, a Battle Mountain High School parent and co-chair of the school’s Project Graduation this year, said graduation night is one of the most dangerous nights for teenagers. The risks are mostly related to drunk driving, she said.

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“The point (of Project Graduation) is to keep (the students) and the community safe,” she said.

Battle Mountain holds its Project Graduation at the Avon Recreation Center every year on the night of the graduation ceremony. They bring in music and food and have an all-night party. Once students are inside, they can’t leave until the party is over. Their bags are checked for illegal party favors and their cars remain parked until the next day.

Eagle Valley High School changed the way it does Project Graduation several years ago, said Mary Rogers, the school’s nurse and a volunteer parent. Rather than hosting the party on graduation night, the school does it on the Wednesday before because it breaks up the week leading up to graduation, she said. Eagle Valley High sends students out of town on buses and the location is always a surprise, although rumors usually circulate before the night, Rogers said.

“A high-risk time can be after school’s out and before the graduation,” said Eagle Valley High Principal Mark Strakbein. “We keep them busy with a few activities ” keeping the focus on remaining safe.”

Eagle Valley holds events like graduation rehearsal, Project Graduation and senior awards in the week leading up to graduation to keep students busy. Strakbein said that since students usually end up with family on graduation night, the school didn’t want to take them away from that for the party.

“About 98 percent of the kids go (to Project Graduation),” he said. “It would be hard to get those (turnout) numbers on graduation night.”

Battle Mountain parents see a good turnout for their party on graduation night, though. Of the 165 seniors in the 2008 class, 118 went to Project Graduation, Hedrick said.

“It’s always been a lot of fun for the kids,” she said.

Barrett Chow graduated from Battle Mountain last year and said Project Graduation night is that one last night to celebrate with everyone in the senior class. After that, it’s graduation and everyone is off on their separate paths.

“It was a good time,” he said. “It’s just a safe way to have fun ” for everything you’ve gone through in school, it’s that one last night to have fun with your friends.”

Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or

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