Underage drinking causes concern

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Grad Night organizers hope to avoid problem through annual event designed to keep seniors safe, and alcohol and drug free.

By Heidi Manteuffel

Special to The Malibu Times

Earlier this month, eight Malibu High School students were disciplined for being under the influence of alcohol at the prom, and 20 students were caught drinking on a school New York trip, bringing the issue of underage drinking in Malibu to the forefront.

This is one of the primary reasons why Malibu residents Denise Peak and Pam Spiegel work diligently to promote the alcohol-free Grad Night, scheduled this year for June 19 at the high school.

Peak and Spiegel say Grad Night is statistically one of the most dangerous nights of the year for students.

“I have seen these kids grow up, and just want them to stay safe and have fun on their last night with each other,” Peak said.

For their fourth year, the two co-chairs of the event are helping coordinate Grad Night with this year’s theme, “Club -04.”

Malibu High School Principal Michael Matthews said Grad Night is an event the administration fully endorses. He said he finds that the incident on the New York trip merely illustrates a larger problem for students in Malibu. “Malibu is a city with a lot of unsupervised places where nothing good can happen,” Matthews said. “Parents need to be extremely diligent in communicating with their children, knowing both where they are and when to intervene.”

Spiegel said they hope to keep the children at Grad Night having fun, and out of unsafe situations. Grad Night takes place on June 19, 9 p.m. until 2:30 a.m. in the Malibu High gym. Peak and Spiegel said in past years, 99 percent of graduating seniors have attended the entire event, continually making for a death and injury free night.

Scott Robinson, director of the Malibu Boys and Girls Club located on the MHS campus said, “I think the problem in Malibu is becoming more noticeable in the mainstream. I’m not sure that it’s any more or less than years gone by, it’s just certainly more in the open.” Robinson also said that underage drinking is not a Malibu problem as much as a nationwide issue.

According to a June 2003 study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 50 percent of children nationwide have already experimented with alcohol, and more than 20 percent have reported being “drunk” by the time they’re in eighth grade.

Not only this, but this same study shows that “50 percent of high school seniors have consumed alcohol within the last 30 days.'”

“Parents need to be more open with their kids and know what they’re doing,” Peak said. “It certainly is a wake-up call for many of their parents because a lot of them are in denial.”

Numerous parents of high school juniors are helping to put on the five-and-half hour event. Graduates can expect to dance, as well take part in the casino. Students will be able to receive massages, play laser tag and even participate in sumo wresting.

“Kids in Malibu are just bored, and they’re left to find alternatives,” Robinson said of a possible reason why they experiment with alcohol and drug.

This is why, he said, in his time with the Boys and Girls Club, he works with students to tap into their passions. Robinson hopes by finding something they can channel into, as is the case with Grad Night, students will not as quickly resort to alcohol to have a good time.

However, as Matthews states of his interaction with Malibu High students, “One thing that’s clear is many of our students believe that no matter how elaborate the surrounding, they still have to use alcohol or drugs to have a good time.”

This does not stop Matthews from stressing the importance of combating the problem, and supporting the children currently dealing with issues of alcohol and drug abuse. Of the eight students found to be under the influence of alcohol at prom, six of them were transferred to Santa Monica High School as part of district policy. The remaining two students, who were seniors, were placed in an independent study program, and will not be allowed to attend the graduation ceremony.

Local merchants have already greatly supported this event and donated more than 60 items for Grad Night. Peak says among many things to give as prizes, they have received microwaves, radios, restaurant certificates and gym memberships. They’ve also received general donations, which they are still collecting to lower the costs for students who will not be able to attend at full price.

The cost of Grad Night is $70 in advance and $100 at the door. Scholarships for this event are also available. Tax-free donations can be sent to Malibu High School attn: Pam Spiegel. 30215 Morning View Drive, Malibu, 90265. More information can be obtained by calling 310.457.6801.