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Initiative aims to keep all safe during homecoming

Homecoming time has been a relatively safe time in the community, and the Ellsworth School District and Ellsworth Police Department want to keep it that way.

The schools and police are now cooperating on an initiative reminding students to stay safe while having fun. With all of the extra activities, youths are out and on-the-road nearly every night, Police Chief Greg Place said Friday.

"It's a vulnerable time for the student population," Place said, adding, "They need to think clearly, and keep in mind being safe and making the right choices."

Underage drinking and alcohol use are particular concerns, the chief said. Information he shared in a survey from Alcohol Epidemiology Program research shows teens usually get their alcohol from people age 21 or older. The second most common source for high school students is someone under age 21, and the second most common source for 18- to 20-year-olds is buying it from a store, bar or restaurant (despite such sales being illegal).

Young people get caught up in the excitement of homecoming events, so much so they might act in ways they wouldn't otherwise, Place said. Whether it's drinking, driving or different activities, they can easily forget safety in the midst of all the school spirit going on.

This season also differs from later in the school year, when winter weather discourages them from being outdoors more, he said. EHS Homecoming Organizer Julie Graber agreed, explaining homecoming actually represents the kick-off to the new term for the school population, even though it really began in early September.

Public service announcements about safety are being made at the high school each morning, Graber said, noting they'll continue throughout the school year. They include the slogan, "There's no 'I' in team, so let's keep 'U' out of drugs," a theme which she credited the senior volleyball girls for recommending. Safety announcements will be made at homecoming pep fests as well, while t-shirts promoting the theme will be available, too.

The EHS "Arrive Alive" group plans to have a related booth outdoors during parent-teacher conferences, according to Advisor J. Fisk. A game will be played by students who visit the booth and an "anti-drinking and driving" message sent. Thirty volunteers signed up to help with the effort.

School administrators held a meeting to prepare for the initiative early last month and pertinent groups, including the EHS Student Council, have met since to arrange the details.

"If it keeps one kid safe, it will be worthwhile," Fisk said about the initiative.