WICHITA, Kansas (Reuters) - Sometime on Sunday morning, a Pennsylvania high school student will be presented with the keys to a black Honda Civic just for going to a party after the school’s annual prom dance.
In Roanoke, Virginia, one student will drive away next month with a new car and two others will get iPads.
At a high school outside Dallas, two students received $500 college scholarships.
Around the country parents, schools and civic organizations are using extravagant door prizes to encourage high school students to attend supervised, alcohol-free events after their annual high school proms in a bid to keep them away from wild private parties.
“Proms are a lot like a rite of passage in America,” said Sherry Hamby, research professor of psychology at Sewanee: The University of the South in Tennessee. “It signals your maturity as a sexual person. Often it’s the first time that they might go out to dinner independently.”
Supervised after-prom events have been around for years, but they are becoming more elaborate, and organizers are offering expensive goodies to get teenagers’ attention. Some are organized by parents, others by non-profit groups. The prizes are sometimes provided by local businesses, as with the car in Pennsylvania. Others are purchased through parent-led fundraising.
Derby High School in Derby, Kansas, outside Wichita, booked an entire amusement park for its after-prom party. The committee hired bus drivers to shuttle students back and forth, organized fundraisers and gathered prizes.
“This is so great. It gives kids something to do besides bad stuff. It gives them a place to go,” said Victoria Balevre, 17, a junior at Derby High School who attended the amusement park party on April 20.
The high school prom isn’t just a rite of passage, it’s an expensive rite of passage. According to a survey by credit-card company Visa, the average teenager spends more than $1,000 on prom for things such as a dress or tuxedo, shoes, jewelry, hair styling, manicures, tickets to the event, dinner out and renting a limousine.
Organizers of the supervised after-prom parties concede it can be tough to impress kids already spending big dollars on proms.
The Roanoke Area Youth Substance Abuse Coalition in Roanoke, Virginia, holds a ”grand finale party“ on June 1. Each of the area’s high schools can send four students who have attended an after-prom party to this special after-after-prom party.” Two students will win an iPad, and one will drive away in a 2013 Nissan Juke.
“Research shows that if they stay to the end of the after-prom party, they are more likely to be alcohol- and drug-free,” said Kathy Sullivan, the director of the Roanoke group.
In addition to the $500 scholarships, Allen High School in Allen, Texas, outside Dallas, gave away eight $250 dollar scholarships, several computers, a party for 20 at a local barbecue restaurant and tickets to a Texas Rangers baseball game.
For the past six years, Unionville High School in Unionville, Pennsylvania, has given away a high-quality used car donated by a local dealership.
“The prizes definitely are a draw for people to come,” said Trish Hawkins, a volunteer organizer for Allen High School’s after-prom event.
The number of students who attend the Heights High School After Prom Party in Wichita, Kansas, has gradually increased in the last few years. More than 400 attended this year, said Lisa Bahner, a parent volunteer who worked at this year’s prom.
At the Johnson City, New York, High School after prom-party, organizers will give away microwaves, laptops and television sets. Each attendee is given a suitcase with $100 worth of merchandise. Ninety percent of eligible students attend, said Kathleen Neiss, a parent and volunteer organizer.
“We try to fill each suitcase with a T-shirt and other items they might need in college,” Neiss said.
Parents and organizers point to anecdotal evidence that the supervised after-prom events have reduced the number of traffic accidents on prom nights.
“Ever since we started these nine years ago, there have been no reported accidents on prom night,” said Candy Gaff, an after-prom organizer at the Coalition for a Drug Free Dale County in Alabama.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data shows the number of people killed in teen-related car crashes during the months of April and May, when most proms take place, has steadily decreased to 589 in 2011, the latest year available, from 1,017 in 2007.
While the number of supervised after-parties has expanded, many communities do not organize such events. And even in towns with supervised after-parties, some students prefer private parties.
Shelby Harmon, 17, of Orange, California, picked out a purple dress with diamond sparkles, had her hair styled and got a manicure and pedicure before her May 11 prom. She and 49 friends rode to the party on a party bus.
“We took the bus to dinner and then the dance and then we drove around,” Shelby said. “It was a lot of fun.”
Her community does not offer a supervised after-prom event. Instead, her group went to a beach house after the prom to continue partying.
Derrick Woulard, 19, of Hinesville, Georgia, who last year attended school near the American military base in Vilseck, Germany, went to a private party after prom and said if there had been a parent-run party he would not have attended.
“I feel like it would be too controlled,” Woulard said. “My party was probably more fun.”
Controlling is exactly what parents are trying to do wit the after-parties. For some, prom brings back scary thoughts of their own rite of passage in high school.
“I know what I did after my prom, and I certainly don’t want my kids doing that,” New York parent Neiss said. “This party keeps them off the streets and out of trouble.”
Reporting By Alice Mannette; Editing by Greg McCune and Douglas Royalty