For Ahwatukee Foothills high school seniors, now is a time of excitement as graduation and the last summer before they take the next step in their lives rolls closer.
Area high schools and other local organizations want students to enjoy their last moments of high school but are encouraging them to be safe in whatever they choose to do on graduation night.
It's no secret that some teens choose to drink alcohol when they celebrate and graduation night is definitely one of the nights that concerns parents and community members the most.
To remind students of the dangers of drinking, or drinking and driving, schools like Mountain Pointe High School do several events leading up to the final day of school.
One of those events was the annual Dead Day at Mountain Pointe, which took place in March. Students are pulled from classes and painted and dressed up to appear as if they had died. They spend the rest of the day walking around school to symbolize that drinking and driving can be a life-changing decision.
They also had a Prom Assembly in which students performed "Please God, I'm only seventeen," a performance based on a Dear Abby column that talked about the number of deaths related to drinking and driving.
The school hosted two additional meetings to discuss what is expected of the students at the end-of-the-year celebrations.
"This was one of the smoothest proms I have been to and we were so proud of the good choices our prom go-ers made," assistant principal Pat Goolsby wrote in an email. "The locale, limo and bus drivers are very strict and do a good job making prom a safe night. Subsequently Mr. Kipper has sent out letters reminding parents about graduation and grad nite - our safe alternative to graduation parties."
Organizations like AAA Arizona also make a push leading up to this season, which a spokesperson referred to as the "101 most dangerous days."
Auto accidents are the leading cause of death for teens, more than drugs, alcohol, suicide and violence combined and the end of school and the summer have proven to be the worst time of year in conjunction with teen injuries and deaths.
"Leading up to and including the summer, teens spend a lot more time on the road and can have a lot more freedom with parents at work," AAA spokeswoman Michelle Donati said. "We also find that a lot of times, parents have an idea of how much and where their child will be driving but the two aren't always the same. To get on the same page is critical."
A good idea is to create a contract with the your son or daughter and get in writing how much they will be driving, what time they will be driving, promise they won't be drinking alcohol, and more.
"It's really laying out those ground rules," Donati said. "We encourage the parents to implement these contracts as they are learning how to drive and also before these celebratory nights."
Some students really take safe driving to heart. The Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) club at Mountain Pointe, which puts on Dead Day, has 26 members who are dedicated to spreading awareness about safe driving to their peers.
"I think it does get through to some people," junior Alexa Carrasco said. "Being in a wreck, getting hurt or even dying, it can happen to anyone."
The goal of the club and the performances and presentations is not to turn students off to the festivities, one teacher said, but just to refresh their minds that they should be safe in whatever they choose to do on nights like prom and graduation.
"Teen drivers are still new to driving," said Dawn Agnew, SADD club sponsor at Mountain Pointe. "We just want them to be aware of the dangers out there when they are on the road."
Graduation for Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe students is slated for Thursday, May 26. Graduation for Horizon Honors seniors is set for Wednesday, June 1.
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