Graduation escalation?

Grade 12 students in Kamloops are dressing up and celebrating receipt of their diplomas. But along with the happiness of the occasion comes partying - and with that, the risks that go with drugs and alcohol.

As the culmination of 13 years of learning, high school graduation is a time of celebration.

By Saturday, 15 high school graduation ceremonies will have taken place in the district, including at the two private schools.

The majority of the commencement exercises took place this week as part of a new plan by the Kamloops-Thompson school district to hold a Grad Week with most ceremonies taking place at the McArthur Island Sports and Events Centre.

But along with formal school ceremonies comes the unofficial celebrations. That celebrating is all about the parties. Parties before graduation. Parties the night of graduation. Parties after graduation.

Parents, teachers, principals and the school district do what they can to make sure the teenagers - on the brink of adulthood - stay safe.

But it's a challenge.

And it's one of the reasons why the district decided to squeeze most of the graduation ceremonies into one week.

Ross Spina, assistant superintendent of secondary education, said the schools take initiative in two ways to get the message through those teenage brains that they need to be careful and responsible.

First, there are presentations to the students by ICBC, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and other groups or individual with similar messages about the risks that come with drugs, alcohol or other aspects of partying.

"There's a number of initiatives we involve our students in throughout the year that emphasize the importance of safety and smart risk," Spina said.

School administrators also meet with students to talk about traditions that some graduates have kept going, such as the girls 'kidnapping' the boys, or pulling an all-nighter and then going to school the following day.

"Those kinds of traditions that are talked about from school to school. They review those with the students," he said.

That has caught up with some kids. Spina recalled one year where several students were sent home after they arrived at school in the morning still under the influence.

"The kids came to school, hadn't slept all night and some were smelling of alcohol. It was a serious realization to them when they were sent home."

It's not that anyone wants to rain on their graduation parades. But no one wants to see teens seriously hurt or even killed because of celebrations gone wrong.

"No one wants to take away the idea of having fun. But we as adults have to say there are limits to what's involved or there will be people or schooling at risk," Spina said.

As for convocation ceremony itself, students don't get to cross the stage to receive their scroll unless they are sober and have all their class credits. That requirement for sobriety at school extends to the lead up to grad.

"If it was a day or two before convocation and they go to school under the influence, they don't walk across the stage," he said.

"I think it makes a difference when students know clearly there will be a consequence."

Still, Spina said he deals with five to eight teens each year who don't qualify for convocation, whether it's due to drinking or a shortfall in credits.

"They were told what was expected of them. The kids are upset when that happens. They're disappointed. But it's usually the parents who are more upset," he said.

"They're senior students, they're going into the adult world. They need to know if they make bad decisions, there are consequences.

Consequences were clearly mapped out for Brock secondary students this year, and the fact that their convocation ceremony is at 9:30 a.m. Saturday might deter students from being out too late the night before, said vice-principal Vessy Mochikas.

Brock students hadn't typically done the kidnapping party, but this year some did. Mochikas only found out because one parent called to complain her teen was left out of it.

Parents are making efforts to keep the kids at their grad dance this year - an event that has had poor turnout in the past, she said.

"Traditionally, soon after it starts it's almost empty. This year, the focus is on keeping our kids at the dance," she said.

"If you're going to ask them not to party, you have to offer them something."

Prizes are being raffled off, but winners have to be there to collect. Mocktails, appetizers and other enticements are also being offered to Brock's 144 grads.

Mochikas, who admitted she doesn't usually sleep well on grad weekend, said she's feeling a little more at ease this year because of what she's seen of students' attitudes as well as the efforts going into helping them celebrate safely.

Kamloops RCMP Sgt. Scott Wilson said police don't put on extra staff to deal with graduations. But they have beefed up the number of regular members who are on during the week for the summer anyway.

"Up to this point in time (this year), there hasn't been an issue involving grad parties. But if you're participating in those parties, please be wise. Make smart choices," he said.

Police are aware of the usual party hangouts, such as the Barnhartvale pits, Tranquille Creek, Westsyde hills, Valleyview's Hong Kong beach, Peterson Creek, Lac du Bois, Lac le Jeune, Coldwater Drive in Juniper and Westsyde Centennial Park.

The RCMP stress with high-school students that their actions can affect not just their safety, but their future careers.

Someone who wants to be bonded or have enhanced security clearance in a future job could end up with a marred record just because he or she got too loaded at grad.

"So be responsible for your actions."

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