By Rebecca LaFlure
Killeen Daily Herald
It's a scenario many parents fear on high school graduation night: Their teenager stays out late drinking at a party and crashes into another car while driving home.
Situations such as this spurred Central Texas parents to organize Project Graduation - a nightlong celebration for high school graduates to eat, play games and spend time with their friends free of alcohol and drugs.
For the past seven months, Molly Banaszak, president of the Killeen High School Project Graduation and mother of a graduating senior, has worked with parents to raise money to provide the safe night of fun.
The project has become an annual tradition at KHS, dating back nearly three decades.
"We're keeping them off the roads to make sure they're safe and sound and live to see the next day," Banaszak said.
Students and parents raised more than $5,000 to fund the project through car washes, pancake breakfasts, a basketball game and other activities. Nearly 185 of the more than 350 graduates signed up to attend this year's event, held Saturday at the Summer Fun Water Park in Belton following the KHS commencement ceremony.
The graduates began arriving at the park at 11:30 p.m., and stayed until 5 a.m. They had access to water slides, a rock wall, sticky wall, sumo wrestling costumes, and casino tables. A DJ played popular tunes while students ate cake and entered to win door prizes.
Sharyn Hall, student activities coordinator at KHS, said the high school started hosting Project Graduation in 1984, and has offered it all but one year since then.
The program is a community effort that takes months of planning and fundraising. It's up to the parents and students of each high school to raise money.
"If you don't have strong parent support, it'll fail," Hall said.
KHS is the only school in the Killeen Independent School District to host the event this year. Ellison, Shoemaker and Harker Heights high schools did not hold a Project Graduation.
In nearby Copperas Cove, high school students celebrated their graduation night at Cinergy Cinemas watching movies and playing unlimited laser tag, arcade games and bingo. Students entered to win more than 250 door prizes, including 15 laptops.
Copperas Cove High School's Project Graduation was previously organized by the school and hosted on campus. However, this year, it was held off-site and put together entirely by the parents. Tiffany Morgan, CCHS Project Graduation chairperson at CCHS and mother of a senior, led the effort, and helped raise about $22,000 through fundraisers and business contributions.
"There was an outpouring of support from the community," she said.
Project Graduation did not just provide a safe haven on graduation night. It also gave students the opportunity to bid farewell to their high school years.
"It means a lot knowing that they get to spend their last night with each other," Banaszak said.
Contact Rebecca LaFlure at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7548. Follow her on Twitter at KDHeducation.