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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Guest Blog: Project Prom Dress

Betty Ray

Director of Programming and Innovation @Edutopia

Editor's Note: Our guest blogger today is Eric Sheninger, principal at New Milford High School in New Milford New Jersey. His school produced an innovative and green (and *fun*!) alternative to the spending frenzy of prom season.

We all have our stories of how the recent recession has impacted our lives. Like adults, students often have too much pride to open up about their financial situations at home. Even worse, societal pressures are so strong that adolescents feel compelled to purchase items beyond their means just to feel like they fit in. As a school and community it was time to forever change this perception in a way that taught a lesson that would last a lifetime. Here's how we did it.

Step One: Create a team and share your vision

The NMHS community came together to take part in Project Prom Dress. The idea was initially pitched to NMHS staff by the New Milford Woman's Club with the premise to collect "gently used" prom and other formal dresses for current students to wear. Some of the key roles on the team include:

* Apparel Organizer (Someone to coordinate the organizing, sorting, hanging of dresses/shoes/accessories)

* Gala Producer (Someone to coordinate a team of people to produce the event, giveaways, coupons, food, flyers, etc)

* Director in charge of the fashion show (staging , lighting, models, decorating, music, scripting, etc)

* Community/PR Liaison (advertising the event, soliciting community support, press releases, etc.)

* MC for the fashion show

* Hair/Make-up Coordinator (People to do the models hair and/or makeup to make it feel more like a fashion event)

* People to go out and get donated dresses for the event or a store to donate them.

There was a core team of approximately 5 staff members and 2 representatives from the New Milford Woman's Club that participated in the planning, organization, and implementation of the event. Up to 10 other staff and community members assisted at various points along the way.

Step Two: Produce and market it: Gala, but green!

We decided to produce a fashion show with a raffle, music and food. It was advertised as a "green event" and marketed to current juniors and seniors to make financially responsible decisions as opposed to spending hundreds of dollars on a dress that will only be worn once. When briefing the students on the idea for this event we encouraged them to not just choose dresses for proms, but also Sweet Sixteen parties, Valentine's Day dances, and graduation.

Step Three: Get the word out

Using word-of-mouth and Facebook, the message was sent to family, friends, and alumni to donate clean dresses. The event quickly caught the eyes of the media spurring both 1010WINS and CBS News to report the story with a follow-up article appearing in a local newspaper.

Step Four: Collect all donated dresses

Over the course of a month, over 220 dresses were collected. During this time NMHS staff and members of the New Milford Woman's Club did the bulk of the planning for the gala.

Step Five: Showtime!

The Gala was held in our auditorium in which we used the established sound and light system. A fog machine was brought in by a teacher and the music was prepared by 2 senior students. The guidance suite was transformed into a discrete changing area for the girls to try on the dresses they selected. One challenge that we had to overcome was acquiring enough racks for all the dresses since we received a much higher amount than we expected (this was a good thing). Tables for the vendors and food were all supplied in-house.

As the host of the event, I started off the evening with an inspirational speech that pertained to getting past the stigma of money and status. The speech also focused on learning to "go green" and being grateful for the moments spent at such events instead of the cost of a dress.

Following the speech, the first segment of the fashion show featured seven female models, each escorted by a male model, who showed off their gently worn dresses. After the first fashion show, more than twenty-five coupons and gifts sponsored by styling salons and other businesses were raffled off to attendees of the event. All raffles and food were donated by local vendors that cater to prom attendees. The grand prize raffle, a $200 gift certificate to Danielle's Place in New Milford, came from Linda McMahon. The significance behind Linda's donation is that she resides in San Francisco, CA and was so touched by the event that she felt compelled to donate a significant gift to one lucky senior. After the gala, junior and senior girls then selected their dresses and tried them on in the guidance suite that was transformed into a changing room. In all, over 85 dresses were taken home. Video footage of the event can be viewed on YouTube.

Lessons Learned

Next year we will plan a similar event that provides an important lesson on fiscal responsibility and erasing the adolescent stigma associated with status by including the male population of the school. To accomplish this we plan to solicit organizations to donate tux rentals to male students that attend the event and vendors to offer haircut discounts. From the fashion show aspect it would be nice to have the same # of female and male models, having each of the males model a different style tux to make them feel as great as the females.

Betty Ray

Director of Programming and Innovation @Edutopia
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