Tips to Keep Teens Safe on Prom Night

Picture of Joan WebbAfter eight years at the Maryland State Department of Education, Joan Webb Scornaienchi became the executive director of HC DrugFree in 2009. She has spent much of her career working in higher education and early on, she served as a drug and alcohol prevention specialist. Here Scornaienchi provides prom safety tips.

Prom season is upon us. Excitement and worry are in the air! While teens are busy making plans with their friends, many parents are volunteering with their Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and the PTA Council of Howard County to plan adult-supervised safe alternatives to private post-prom parties.

Tips for parents: Please talk to your teens about their plans for prom night and encourage them to attend their PTA-sponsored after prom events instead of private parties where alcohol or drugs may be available. Remember, not all teens want to drink or use drugs, but they may not be able to handle the pressure from friends or their dates. Remember too that your child may not know their prom date as well as they think, so talk to them about basic date safety (e.g., being alone in a vehicle with someone they hardly know, how alcohol/drug use can lead to loss of inhibitions, trusting their instincts to stay safe, etc.). Know where your teen is all evening/night.

Let your teen know what your expectations are with respect to alcohol, drugs, driving, dates, parties and curfew. If you tell your teen there will be consequences for unacceptable behaviors, be sure you follow through. Teens in several Howard County focus groups surprised HC DrugFree staff by saying when parents set consequences and do not follow through. According to your teens, they want and need to know they can trust your word for little things (such as coming in 10 minutes late), so they know you can be trusted with bigger issues. If you say it, mean it, and follow through. By the way, HC DrugFree staff never used the word consequences in any teen focus group, yet, teens used it in every setting. Some teens clearly said parents “lie” by not following through. That was tough for staff to hear, but the good news is that your kids said they want you to be their safe place and need you to protect them.

Be sure your child can contact you or another responsible adult (grandparent, neighbor, family friend, etc.) to go get them if they find themselves in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation. If you’ve attended an HC DrugFree event, then you know I encourage all families to have a secret code/phrase for youth to use, so parents know their children need immediate help. The example I like to use is if your son never feeds the family dog, and he calls home to say he forgot to feed the dog, then you would know he needs help or is feeling pressured by his friends. Tell your son that he has to come home NOW, and you are on your way to get him. Drop everything and go. No debate. No questions (until later when you are alone with him). Parents need to assume the phone is on speaker, and friends can hear the conversation or read their texts. Even if your child is somewhere he shouldn’t be, be grateful he called you. Practice the code. Ideally, this code should begin when your child is very young, but it’s never too late.

Above all, please don’t be the adult who buys alcohol for teens, hosts parties with drugs and/or alcohol, or allows other adults to put any of our children in danger.

HC DrugFree is committed to keeping Howard County teens safe during this 2016 prom season and throughout the year. Please visit our website at, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, email us at or call 443-325-0040.

HCPSS and Patterson Students Contribute to Change in Baltimore

Maddy Halbach, PhD, NBCT, is the Academy of Finance instructor for the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS). For the past 14 years, Dr. Halbach has taught economics, business and finance courses to both students and teachers. Helping high school students develop financial literacy skills has driven Dr. Halbach to support her students in competitions, present at conferences and volunteer with financial literacy community events and outreach. Dr. Halbach writes here about her students’ partnership with Patterson High School to develop business plans to revitalize areas of Baltimore affected by unrest in spring 2015.

The CristataCares entrepreneurial project involves collaboration with students from the Howard County Public School System’s Applications and Research Laboratory (ARL) and Baltimore City Public Schools’ Patterson High School. Its ultimate goal for the students is to create business plans for the urban renewal of Baltimore City. Teams of five to eight students apply their entrepreneurial skill set to create plans for businesses that could possibly thrive in this area. These plans range from low cost payday loans to soup trucks to feeding the homeless. Once students complete these projects, they will compete in the Blue Ocean statewide competition on April 23 held at Centennial High School. The Blue Ocean competition is an opportunity for high school students from across the state to present business plans that they have developed.

The CristataCares project has created an opportunity for students from urban and suburban areas to work together to influence and promote positive change in the Baltimore city area. It emphasizes student learning and civic engagement by bringing the students’ focus into areas of needed revitalization. It allows students the rare opportunity to transform what they are learning in the classroom into reality through business plans. To create these plans, students are applying their fundamental knowledge in a nontraditional way, as well as developing their critical thinking, team building and generalist practice skills. They are eliminating geographical boundaries by communicating electronically with their Patterson peers through synchronous video for meetings such as FaceTime or Skype, texting, and Google Docs for the collaboration of writing the business plans. Students have also had several onsite meetings, either at Patterson High School or at the Applications and Research Laboratory. At these meetings, students have participated in team building exercises, developed strategies and schedules to move forward with their projects and worked with business mentors from local communities. Students were introduced to experts in the field of city revitalization from Howard County district to understand the process of redeveloping a community. The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services from the U.S. Department of Justice also addressed issues surrounding the local community.

While learning and growing through application creates a deeper understanding of these concepts, students benefit in many different ways from this project. Not only does it increase student confidence and capabilities, but it creates curiosity to explore and encourages lifelong learning. Austin Adamczyk, a student from ARL, states, “Our experience working with Patterson has been unique and very educational. Coming up with a business idea and putting together all the components into a business plan has been amazing. It is an opportunity to combine all the things we have learned. Our partners at Patterson bring a unique perspective and skill set that really come together with what we learned to create as a team of students who really understand every part of the business. The business plan project has been one of the most rewarding and interesting applications of things I have learned in the classroom.”

Keion Bennett from Patterson High School said, “I like working on the business plan, being able to work with students from a different school and share new ideas of how we can better the world. The most challenging part about this project was thinking of a good idea to come up with and how that idea will benefit people.” Once students researched and seriously considered possible business opportunities, the enthusiasm surrounding the project was stimulating. Elana Katzen, a student from the ARL, states that “working with the students from Patterson High School is by far one of the greatest opportunities I have encountered. The ideas they have for improving their community are innovative and insightful. It is definitely apparent that the students have seriously contemplated improvements they can make locally and how they can contribute to making those improvements. I am looking forward to sharing our final product and receiving feedback on it in the Blue Ocean competition.”

Opportunities like the CristataCares entrepreneurial project make a difference in our students’ lives in terms of how they approach their learning and the application of relevant concepts. It broadens their understanding and ability to navigate their environment. Mike Smith, a student from ARL, says that our “idea for Pay Less Lending stands out. We took the structure of a traditional payday loan company, which takes advantage of marginalized inner city communities, broke it down to a more simplistic form and then built it back up with integrity and ethics as its core….[Patterson students’] insight and perspective have truly been invaluable….One of the goals for Pay Less Lending is to educate the public on personal finance and wealth management because we want the public to know the information and be able to apply it in their life situations.” Mike, like many of the students involved in this project, has embedded financial literacy into their proposed business ideas. They understand that educating others on financial issues is a stepping stone to success.

Jonathan Bradley, founder of CristataCares, has always had an intense passion for encouraging the next generation to be financially literate, while acknowledging that entrepreneurship is a vital component of this goal. He believes “entrepreneurship is the future of American capitalism. An entity that considers the social impact of its community and economy, on a local, national and global level, is an enterprise of the future.” CristataCares works closely with Patterson High School to develop financial literacy in young adults.

The support from the school districts for this project has been outstanding. Principals from both high schools are looking to create a partnership for future joint endeavors, and the teachers have worked diligently to create an experience the students will always cherish and remember.