Community plans for Safe Grad in wake of tragedy

By Charmaine Froese
Garden Valley Collegiate
Winkler, Manitoba

About 150 people from the community of Winkler gathered for a meeting earlier this month to talk about the safety of graduating students and their "after-grad" celebrations, following the death of a student last June.

The informational meeting was held on October 6 and the response from the community was astounding. Two parents were elected to a divisional committee; which will include four or five students. Two members in the community also showed an interest in being a part of the committee. A total of about 35 people signed up, indicating they too were interested in helping out with the "after-grad" program.

GVC has not been involved in a Safe Grad program in previous years. But following the tragic death of student Darryl Dick after last year's graduation, that option is now being strongly considered.

"The tragedy motivated the community to consider supporting their students on grad night," says Mr. Karl Redekop, principal at GVC.

The purpose of designing a Safe Grad is to organize a celebration that is enjoyable but accident and incident-free. Other high schools have recognized a number of problems that are directly associated with grad parties-- excessive drinking, underage drinking, drinking and driving, drug or substance abuse, drug overdoses, traffic accidents, drowning, and fights. In a more controlled environment, many of these problems can be avoided and that is what the a Safe Grad program aims to provide.

Some of the main issues the new committee must address are transportation and whether or not there will be alcohol available at the grad party. Providing transportation is considered "a must" for all who attend the After-Grad celebration, whether or not they have been drinking, because long hours without sleep and youthful exuberance can also result in a tragedy on the roads.

Statistics show that in Canada, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death in the 16- 24 age group. In Manitoba, alcohol is a factor in over 50 percent of fatal car accidents and a suspected factor in 70 percent of them. A 16 or 17-year old is 165 times more likely to be involved in an accident when impaired, than when sober. Due to such circumstances and statistics, any GVC grad who attends the 1999 celebrations should have a ride home to ensure safety.

Whether to have a 'dry' or 'wet' grad is a difficult issue to resolve. How does the new committee determine who will be allowed to drink and who will not? How many drinks will the young grads be allowed to have? How can participants be prevented from bringing in unauthorized alcohol?

There are those in the Winkler community who do not condone "wet grads," because they believe it gives students a legal right to drink as much as they want. That appears not to be true, since the alcohol served at an After-Grad celebration must follow the guidelines and regulations of the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission. There would be experienced bar tenders who are not allowed to sell alcohol to minors and a limit set on the amount each person drinks could ensure that no one became impaired.

Whatever the committee decides, designing a Safe Grad program for students at GVC will not be school-initiated in any way. The school's responsibility ends with the official ceremonies such as the Grad banquet and the diploma ceremony.

According to the principal, Karl Redekop, school administrators will be available to the committees "for information purposes only." That means that this After-Grad program must be planned and organized by the parents and students. As a reward for their efforts, they can look forward to a celebration that is both fun and safe.


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