Sunday, June 2, 2002

Kalaheo High School's Project Graduation event yesterday featured a giveaway, courtesy of auto dealer Mike McKenna, of a 1999 Ford Escort ZX2. Beverlyn Maglalang, the last of 10 people to try a key in the car's ignition, successfully started the engine to win the car. McKenna donated the car as an incentive to maximize participation in Project Graduation.

Project Graduation
offers safe party option

Students celebrate at alcohol-
and drug-free events

By Lisa Asato

Roosevelt High School senior Jamie Mukai considers herself lucky that parents at her school organized a Project Graduation.

"(I'm) looking forward to it 'cause it's the last time to be with my classmates, yeah?" Mukai said in an interview before her graduation last night.

Parents there started fund-raising for the alcohol- and drug-free graduation celebration two years ago.

"They don't want us to go out and get hurt in accidents ... because people who don't have Project Graduation, they just go out and party," she said. "And that's how they get into accidents. They drink and stuff."

Gay Mukai, her mom, who is the chairwoman of the school's event, said it's "as much for the parents as for the kids 'cause our kids are safe. ... It's parents' gift to seniors because we want them to enjoy their graduation night and be safe. Be very safe."

Roosevelt has participated in Project Graduation since 1990, longer than any public school. This year, about 45 public and private schools are expected to hold their own festivities, with around 35 planned from Friday to today.

"Project Graduation has really been a shining star for the state, we grew fast and we've been growing steadily every year," said Jan Meeker, the state Department of Education's resource teacher for the Safe Community Youth Activity Program.

Although attendance dropped to 58 percent at schools with Project Graduation in 2000 from 73 percent a year earlier, those numbers are skewed because new schools starting the program have lower turnouts than the veteran schools, she said.

"Every year you add a school, you lose a school, we've been steadily increasing every year at least by 100 or 200 (students) a year," she said.

Meeker said the intent of the program was "not to lose any senior on graduation weekend. And we've been successful with that."

Officer Raymond Lurbe of the Honolulu Police Department said Project Graduation makes a difference in keeping students safe on graduation night.

"If they didn't have it, once graduation is over they're going to be going from party to party to party," said Lurbe, who visits schools to talk to students about drinking and driving. "This is like a speed bump before releasing them and makes them think a lot. At least for that one night they're pretty safe."

Meeker said the events do not receive any money from the state Department of Education and parents are key to making it happen through fund-raisers and planning. She said there are about 13 public schools "yet to come on board."

"We really do need parents to come forward and take the lead," she said.

At Castle High School, Karen Kimura said most of the work is done by the parents because it's seen as a gift to the students. Fund raising is tough, she said, requiring year-round work. "As soon as this one is pau we'll start for the next year," said Kimura, a teacher and a coordinator for Project Graduation. This year, the school had planned to spend about $130 per student for a projected 250 students.

Like other schools, where the event will be held is kept secret.

"We have had security problems where people anticipated the site and people planted things there and crashed the site," Kimura said.

Meeker said parents give away prizes including cash, scholarships, computer systems, televisions, cell phones and rice cookers for college. But the biggest prizes, she said, are cars.

To entice students to attend, auto dealer Mike McKenna raffles away cars at four schools in Windward Oahu and one in Kona as long as they get at least a 95 percent turnout. McKenna said he does it because, as a teen, he was a passenger in a graduation-night crash involving alcohol.

"Luckily no one was killed, but it could have wiped out the whole car," he said. "So I figured this was a good thing to do, and I like kids."

He's given away 25 cars in 10 years, with two won in the last two days by seniors at Kahuku and Kalaheo high schools.

"We've always had one of the highest attendance on the Windward side," said Tina Shaffer, the chairwoman of Kalaheo's Project Graduation. The school had about 98 percent participation this year, she said. "We're very proud of that."

Of course, the highlight is the car drawing, which ends the overnight adventure. "The kids have a good time, but by the time it's 7 in the morning they're half awake," she said. "You want to say it's like the climax of the evening. They're excited but they can barely keep their eyes open."

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