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Big dates shouldn't cost kids big bucks

I admit to being a slow-texting, MySpace-ignorant, Juicy Couture-clueless adult when it comes to the current high school generation, no matter how hard the teenagers in my life try to educate me.

So tell me this:

When did the high school set become fat cats scarfing salmon puffs at a ballroom buffet? When did it become normal for a kid to emerge from a stretch Hummer wearing a Vera Wang gown and head off to some schmancy restaurant?

All before the homecoming dance even starts?

Okay, I exaggerate. (I find this an effective way to hold a teenager's attention, like making loud noises and jumping up and down.) For the majority of kids, it's probably not quite that night-on-the-town-with-my-BFF-Paris-Hilton.

Still, besides dress/shoes/hair/mani-pedi, you'll need homecoming tickets and, at a lot of schools, transportation to a fancy hall or hotel. And it's no news to anyone that we are in an economic "downturn," as we have taken to calling our current situation, as if this were merely an easily correctable wrong turn rather than what feels like a terrifying downward spiral.

"Money is an issue for our kids," says Jeff Boldt, principal at Tampa's Chamberlain High, where 59 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. "I can't imagine there aren't some kids that can't attend a homecoming dance that would like to."

Stop. Stop the madness.

A ray of sensibility emerges from the Hillsborough County School Board. (Yes, I did so write that.)

Board member April Griffin, who has two boys in high school, is talking back-to-basics, with that crucial element of getting student leaders and their ideas involved.

Thoughts? Have homecoming at school if possible. Use the school system's buying muscle to negotiate deals at a few large venues, then let individual schools pick from those. (It should be noted that some schools already are working on solutions to cut ticket costs.)

Get her going and Griffin even muses on making yearbooks less pricey and encouraging class ring companies to offer more affordable options for kids who don't have hundreds to spend. (Did I mention she has two boys in high school?)

The mind reels with possibility.

A collection of donated dresses for girls to peruse, a la the Belle of the Ball Project in Pinellas. Parents who co-host group dinners at home beforehand instead of shelling out bucks for Outback Steakhouse or Bonefish Grill or better.

The million-dollar question: Will kids buy into it?

Consider this: At Brandon High, homecoming happens at the school. Granted, their campus is blessed with the space for this, but they were also smart. They made it about the kids.

Students spend six months working on homecoming. They use glitter and paper and glue. They build waterfalls and volcanos. (This year's theme: Cirque de Soleil.)

And they actually, don't tell them this part, learn. They learn about business and planning and leadership. They get a grade.

Buy in? "Our students would riot if we moved it off campus," says Ashley Buchanan, the very enthusiastic-sounding world history teacher and student government sponsor.

Next stop: Prom. Hey, an old person can dream, can't she?

Big dates shouldn't cost kids big bucks 10/17/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 21, 2008 2:48pm]
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