Essay contest promotes safe proms
One Johnson County group plans to reward a free prom to a couple that can promise not to drink on prom night.
This is the sixth year the Johnson County Coalition to STOP Underage Drinking has sponsored an essay contest to get teens to stop abusing alcohol on prom night.
"We really try to bring awareness this time of year," said Karen Leisner, training and education consultant for the regional prevention center and Stop coalition co-chair. "Not just to students but to adults so they can be a positive example."
Leisner said the goal of the essay contest is to provide education and awareness about teenage drinking.
"This year we hope to get even more applications," she said.
Leisner said winning entries were often written about personal traumas with alcohol or a family member's alcohol experiences. Essays could be about a teen's promise not to drink on prom night or even a fictional account about the realistic effects of alcohol.
"Some write the consequences aren't worth it," Leisner said. "It's all from the aspect of promoting and staying away from alcohol and drugs."
The contest is open to any juniors or seniors in Johnson County, but in the past only students from Shawnee Mission West, Blue Valley and St. Thomas Aquinas have been named winners. Leisner said the committee usually gets 20 or 30 submissions each year.
The winning entry will receive a $150 gift certificate for a prom dress, $150 certificate for a tuxedo, and a $100 gift certificate for dinner on the Country Club Plaza, flower arrangements and gift certificates for beauty salons.
"All winners get picture frames and disposable cameras, and one of the things we've been able to get in the past is a free carriage ride at the plaza," she said.
Leisner said second-and third-place winners have typically received gift certificates as well, although for less than the grand prize. She said the gift certificates are usually dependent upon donations from businesses.
This year, the essays are due by March 3 because of early prom dates.
De Soto High School will have their prom April 8 at the Olathe Cedar Creek Country Club and an after-prom party will follow at the high school.
Leisner said teen alcohol and drug abuse were a major focus of the coalition. Each year, the regional prevention center conducts surveys for sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders to monitor alcohol and drug use among teens in Johnson County. Leisner said the results in 2005 showed increasing teen drug and alcohol abuse.
"For alcohol use, the average age reported is 13.09 years of age, so we're talking about middle school students beginning to drink," Leisner said.
An average of 48.9 percent students have tried alcohol at least once, and 31.1 percent have used alcohol in the 30 days leading up to the survey.
Leisner said one of the concerns was binge drinking. She said that 38.4 high school seniors report drinking five or more drinks in a row on average.
"Our concern is when they're making that choice to drink, they're not just having a beer or two," Leisner said. "They're drinking to become intoxicated."
Mary Moss, a judge for the essay contest, said entries would be reviewed by members of the coalition and volunteers. Those entries should be three to five pages in length and may be double-spaced, she said.
"What we hope is that it's a different and unique way to get people to think about underage drinking and related tragedies," Moss said. "It might only make a difference in a few people, but maybe they'll turn around and tell others."
For more information about the essay contest, contact the Regional Prevention Center at (913)-715-7880, or visit the Web site at www.jocostop.org.