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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Nashua area high schools prep students for safe prom, graduation season

TINA FORBES

Staff Writer

Hollis Brookline High School students know something about grief. They know they and their classmates aren’t invincible, and they know deadly accidents can strike from nowhere.

The first of several tragedies connected to the Hollis Brookline High School community occurred Aug. 16, with the car crash death of 2013 graduate Kendall Van Schoick. ...

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Hollis Brookline High School students know something about grief. They know they and their classmates aren’t invincible, and they know deadly accidents can strike from nowhere.

The first of several tragedies connected to the Hollis Brookline High School community occurred Aug. 16, with the car crash death of 2013 graduate Kendall Van Schoick.

Then, Sebastian Abt, 21, a 2010 Hollis Brookline High School grad, died when his car and a truck collided on Route 130 in Hollis.

Tragedy returned yet again to the Hollis Brookline community Dec. 9, when 17-year-old senior Cam Ricard was killed when he lost control of his vehicle on ice in Nashua returning from hockey practice.

And in February, another recent graduate, 19-year-old Vincent Magnano, was found dead in his home in Incline Village, Nev., where he was a freshman studying environmental science at Sierra Nevada College. He died in his sleep, and his death was ruled accidental.

With the coming prom and graduation seasons – and the parties that come with them – Barnes said the school has stepped up a series of safety programs hoping to remind his students once again how vital it can be to make safe decisions.

“Prom and graduation are a time lots of kids are traditionally at risk,” Barnes said.

Principals and other school officials are on guard this time of year, when sometimes alcohol-fueled graduation and prom parties lead into the summer months.

At Hollis Brookline, one of the warnings to students was a distracted driving simulator that school resource officer Richard Bergeron brought to the school. The machine simulated the experience of driving while texting.

“It was pretty complicated. It involved plugging in iPhones ... it gave kids a sense of what could happen,” Barnes said.

The school also participated in the statewide Seat Belt Challenge. Bergeron has been with the school for three years and continues to come up with new approaches to encouraging safe decisions. He also brought in the so-called seat-belt convincer – a machine in which students strap in and feel a simulated car accident at 5-7 miles per hour.

Barnes said the biggest hit was bringing in former Celtics player Chris Herron. Herron’s career was cut short by alcohol and drug use. He overdosed on heroin in 2008 but has been drug- and alcohol-free since August 2008. He now supports recovering addicts and educates the public on the dangers of drug abuse.

“The kids really liked Chris. It was the best drug and alcohol presentation I’ve ever seen. He was very raw and real,” Barnes said.

Nashua High School South Principal Keith Richard said his school’s major strategy is offering safe options for student celebrations, such as an overnight Boston harbor cruise after graduation and a prom after-party lock-in at the YMCA.

“Last year was the first year bringing back the post-prom party,” Richard said. “Many parents support it … the community comes together to make donations.”

Richard also spoke to students about staying safe this spring at the senior class meeting.

“We stated our concern with them making decisions,” he said.

Senior Zach Peterson shared a video he created about prom safety.

Although there was no particular event prompting the safety precautions, Richard said they remain fearful about the risk for accidents around prom and graduation celebrations.

Merrimack High School Principal Ken Johnson said he has tried to enhance some of the safety campaigns that predate his 12-year tenure at the school.

MHS has a prevention program that spreads the message all year.

“We address safety and good decision making throughout the school year through our advisory program, Challenge Day program, Junior Impact, Safety Belt Challenge, texting safety, Mock DUI and a series of guest speakers,” Johnson said.

Johnson hosts a senior meeting as well.

“Specifically with regards to graduation, I address the students in a traditional class meeting. There, I discuss expectations, good decision making during senior Week, graduation, etc.”

But no system, simulation, program or warning is perfect, Johnson acknowledged.

“Sadly, despite our efforts and interventions, there are those who will still make poor decisions or become victims of the poor decisions of others.”