PROMblem Solved

Due to numerous scheduling conflicts, involving sports meets, international trips, and teacher workshop days, the date and venue for Oyster River High School’s (ORHS) prom has recently been a hot button topic among students, parents, and faculty at ORHS. Prom committee’s goal was to ensure that the maximum number of kids could attend, hence the various date changes. After a long process facilitated by the prom committee, prom will be held on April 3, 2020 at the Red Barn in South Berwick, Maine. 

Unfortunately, a small group of eight ORHS students, including Iris Ingelfinger (‘21), still will not be able to attend prom due to the All State Music Festival. “It would have been nice for me to be able to go, like if they had it at the high school and it was a different day where everyone could go. But, I don’t think they could have picked a day where everyone would have been happy either way, regardless of whether it was at the high school or at the Red Barn,” said Ingelfinger.

Scheduled last spring, the original date for this year was the evening of May 22nd, which was a teacher workshop day. “I booked it, paid the deposit, contacted the DJ, and then a week later was notified that we needed to change the date because of the UK trip,” said Barb Milliken, French teacher at ORHS and coordinator of the school’s junior and senior prom. The trip Milliken was referring to is the ORHS strings orchestra trip to the United Kingdom in late May. The orchestra trip consisted of eight juniors and seniors, however Milliken was unaware of that number at the time.

Therefore, in an effort to maximize the number of students able to attend, the date was changed last spring to May 21st, the Thursday before that teacher workshop day. This eliminated conflicts with sports, clubs, and orchestra.

“That was great,” Milliken said of the May 21st date. “Then, this year, the day before Christmas vacation, I was notified that the school board decided to make the 22nd a school day, so we needed to change the prom date, which at this point is really short notice for a venue and it’s in the middle of wedding season.”

The prom committee was left with few venue options. “There are only two venues that can carry our large school now and there are no other venues within a good, safe driving distance,” she said.

Milliken was then able to book the 2020 Prom for May 29th at the Red Barn, thinking there were no conflicts. However, the orchestra’s trip to the United Kingdom would not have been back in time for that date. While that was only eight juniors and seniors, that trip was not the only conflict. “At that point, three big different groups of people couldn’t go. Orchestra at that point couldn’t go, there was a girls tennis championship game that day, and a huge track meet the next day. It was not great,” said Trinity Chase, one of nine members of this year’s prom comittee. This change resulted in fifty-sixty juniors and seniors who would have had a hard time attending prom.

Prom committee then suggested that prom be held at ORHS. That way, they could have more flexibility with the date and ideally, the maximum number of students could attend. “Mr. McCann, Mr. Lathrop, and Ms. Filippone met with our prom committee and discussed whether or not, to be more inclusive, they would consider having the prom on site somewhere, which came with a lot of uproar. That’s when we had the student poll and it was clear that kids didn’t want to have the prom at school,” Milliken said. 

Following the survey taken by 226 students, 126 voted to have prom at the Red Barn on May 29th, knowing that a large number of students would have trouble going, 59 voted to have it at ORHS on a nonconflicting date, and 45 students had no opinion on the matter. Seeing that the majority of students did not want to have prom at ORHS, Milliken decided to call the Red Barn to see if there were any other possible dates. 

April 3, 2020 was the only available date at the Red Barn. The same day as the poll results, Milliken held a meeting with this year’s prom committee, as well as now seniors from last year’s prom committee. They decided that, while April 3rd is very early, the majority of the student body would be happier. “We discussed whether it’s at school or it’s at the venue of their choice on April 3rd. At that time, we had no idea that there were any conflicts whatsoever, everybody was happy,” said Milliken. However, the eight students going to the All State Music Festival will still be unable to attend.

Following the official announcement of the finalized date in an email from ORHS principal, Suzanne Filippone, Milliken said, “I think kids have been really polite to me about it. I have kids in my advisory who won’t be able to go and it makes me really sad that they can’t go because I understand as much as you can say this is just a dance, it’s a rite of passage for kids,” said Milliken. 

Filippone went on to explain why the final date was the best decision for the most people. “The April 3rd date was chosen because, first of all, the venue was available, so that’s a big thing because by now, the number of dates are limited for us, especially in the spring. It is also in between athletic seasons, so we knew that there wouldn’t be any conflicts, which was one of the areas of conflict before, and we knew that that date did not have any trips overlapping. So, that was the date that we felt would have the fewest number of conflicts,” said Filippone.

Chase explained why the date was changed so many times. “Our big goal is to have the students in mind. Our goal is to have as many people as possible able to go and have a good time. That’s why we tried so hard to get the date right and why it was such a big deal,” she said. 

Frustrated with the amount of conflict this year, Milliken said, “it’s just been a no win situation but we do feel as though we’ve picked an option where it’s the most inclusive and we hope everybody will have a great time.”

Chase agreed saying, “I think a lot of times people forget what we have in mind is the students’ happiness and having everyone able to experience that, so at this point I think it has worked out pretty well because almost everyone can go and that was what we wanted.”

Chase went on to explain the push back that prom committee got from students at ORHS.  “At the school, sometimes people can be very quick to jump on it when they don’t like something, they don’t understand the work that the people in the back had to do to get it there and they immediately think that for some reason we are trying to go against them, but we’re really just trying to help everyone,” she said.

While prom committee was met with a lot of opinions from students throughout the process, Filippone said she was met with concerns from students, but also parents in the community. “I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s negative. I think that’s it’s people who are concerned that kids won’t be able to experience something that’s a rite of passage in a way. I think that concern that people have for the kids sometimes comes off as negative, but I think that it comes from a good place.”

As to how this scheduling conflict could be prevented in the future, Milliken said, “every event has to be scheduled. Truly and honestly, every single faculty member in this district that has a group of kids that are doing an organizational event somewhere, they all have to have it documented. The backlash that comes at us is difficult and it could be avoided with better documentation.” 

Filippone agreed, saying, “I don’t want to have this happen again, so looking forward I will be advocating to not have it on a Thursday before a teacher workshop day, so we will avoid that completely in the future.”

Although some students have had conflicts with the scheduled date, Ingelfinger appreciated the work that the prom committee put into the whole process. “I think the prom committee did a pretty good job this year thinking about all the students who were going to be affected by the date of prom and I think they did a pretty good job handling it, even though people like me and some other people can’t go,” said Ingelfinger. 

Images by Cathi Stetson