May 19, 2014 7:47 pm

Surrey high school students fundraise to pay for their ‘dry grad’

WATCH: Prom and grad season is upon us, but all too often tragedy goes hand in hand with the festivities. Rumina Daya has more what’s being done to save lives during the celebrations.

Fifteen young people are killed and 4,700 are injured in crashes every year in the Lower Mainland.

The number of alcohol-related collisions is at its highest in June, which coincides with the grad season.

But as B.C. grads plan their special night, safety can take a back seat.

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Increasingly, the so-called “dry grads” are bringing the focus back on responsible partying.

L.A. Matheson Secondary School in Surrey is one of the many schools in B.C. planning a “dry grad” for their students this year.

The event is completely alcohol and drug free and students are chaperoned and bussed directly from the graduation dinner dance back to the school with no stops in between.

There are no in/out privileges and all bags are checked.

There is a DJ, dance floor, laser lights, photo booths, snacks and non-alcoholic drinks being served and even a red carpet to welcome them.

Darcy Schweighardt is on her daughter’s “dry grad” planning committee.

He says it gives him peace of mind to know she will be marking the occasion in a safe environment.

“You can really celebrate this time of your life, you don’t need the alcohol and you do not need the violence,” he says.

He says they make strict rules known to the grads from the get-go.

“It is not that we are trying to prevent [them] from having a good time,” he says. “Instead, we are creating an environment where [they] are going to have a good time.”

Despite many restrictions, Schweighardt says the kids are mostly on board.

The school held its first “dry grad” four years ago. In the first year, only 30 students showed up. Last year, 180 out of 230 attended.

This year, Schweighardt says, they hope the majority of the 237-people graduating class will join.

“Even the ones that want to go drink want to come because their friends are there,” he adds.

He says the community has been very supportive of their efforts with local businesses donating items and helping them out.

“Communities start to recognize how important this is. It is not about a party, it is about keeping these kids safe, so they can go on and have a life,” says Schweighardt.

Surrey RCMP Corporal Bert Paquet says they encourage responsible partying throughout the year, and their message resonates especially strong during the grad season.

“As we always advocate, you’re not legally allowed to drink. But if you do, don’t drive,” says Paquet. “Don’t get in a car with a driver that’s been drinking or using other recreational (illegal) substances, and don’t leave your drinks unattended.”

BC Automobile Association says they support high schools which choose to hold “dry grad” celebrations.

Every year, they give $6,000 away in their “dry grad” video challenge to give students an opportunity to raise funds for their alcohol free grad party and think about consequences of impaired driving.

Schweighardt says the “dry grad” is a lot of work and costs at least $15,000 to put together.

Throughout the year, students hold bottle drives, car washes and chocolate sales to raise enough money.

The school has raised about $6,000 so far.

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